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20 April 2017

Five things to look out for in the Commission’s proposal on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Social Europe_Yes we can

On 26 April 2017 the European Commission will finally issue its long-awaited proposal on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). The EPSR will be accompanied by an impressive number of social initiatives.

However, while it has been announced that the so-called Pillar will be a set of principles in the form of a reference framework or roadmap, similar to what was initially proposed for consultation, no further details have been forthcoming. In view of this uncertainty, and in anticipation of a more thorough assessment of the proposal once it has been published, Zane Rasnača proposes five key things to look out for in this initiative:

1) What is the legal basis for the EPSR?

So far the Commission’s documents have not indicated on what legal basis (or for that matter in what legal form) the Pillar will take shape. However, the legal basis matters (and not only to lawyers): it will determine the scope of the EPSR, particularly regarding the limits of its reach. The EPSR could be considered as a measure aimed at implementing the ‘social clause’ (Article 9 TFEU), which has arguably been limited by being embedded in the legal framework of the Economic and Monetary Union rather than the ‘social’ provisions of the Treaties. However, this initiative also has the potential to limit the way the social clause functions in the future by subordinating it to a more economic rationale.

2) What is the legal nature of the EPSR?

There have been many requests that the EPSR concentrate on legally enforceable rights rather than principles, because the former would be the most direct way of improving the lives of workers, the unemployed, and the vulnerable and disadvantaged. The Commission, however, has stuck to its initial proposal and the Pillar will instead consist of a set of principles, as recently confirmed by Commissioner Thyssen’s head of cabinet at the NETLEX 2017 conference in Brussels. Nevertheless, what matters is the legal nature of these principles. Will they be binding and, if so, binding for whom (e.g. EU institutions, Member States)? How will they be implemented (e.g. binding benchmarks)? The legal nature of this instrument, among other factors, will determine its potential impact in the EU. If the Pillar remains a soft law document without a legally binding character, then its future effectiveness is at best doubtful.

3) How will the EPSR change the EU policymaking process? 

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This article first appeared on the ETUI Medium platform.

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Zane Rasnača Researcher zrasnaca@etui.org

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