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23 November 2017

The European Pillar of Social Rights: a fresh chance to rebalance the social and economic dimensions of European integration?

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On 8 November, the ETUI hosted a monthly forum to present the recent and timely work done by the institute’s own researchers on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). It is the second event in a series of activities by the ETUI that reflect on the nature of the EPSR, particularly in terms of its content and impact on labour and social rights.

Philippe Pochet presented his ideas about how the Pillar could be positioned in the cycle of European social policy. He argued that around every 15 years an ambitious proposal of rebalancing the economic and social policy dimensions of the European project gets adopted. Fifteen years after the adoption of a Charter of Fundamental Rights and the negotiation of a Constitutional Treaty, and almost 30 years after the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, the European Union now says it wants to make a new attempt at rebalancing and developing the social dimension in the form of a European ‘social pillar’. According to Pochet this could be a chance to change the direction of European integration. However, it would be crucial to identify the actors who will be able to give direction to this initiative and help it gain momentum, for example by creating a new platform that involves actors from all the different areas covered by the Pillar.

ETUI labour lawyer Zane Rasnača then presented the main points of her recently published working paper in which she explores whether the Pillar is merely another ‘soft law’ initiative that will fall short or whether it represents a long-awaited shift in the EU discourse. She said that although the EPSR is the widest-ranging European social policy document, the principles or rights included in it are not legally binding. It covers a very broad range of areas, and although some fall under the EU competences, others do not, which would make enforcement very difficult. The Pillar could be a step in the right direction, but a lot will depend on the stakeholders, with the most important actors being the European institutions.

Finally, Martin Myant, Head of Unit for ‘European Economic, Employment and Social Policy’ at the ETUI, presented a joint analysis by ETUI researchers of the ‘Social Scoreboard’, which the European Commission will use to monitor the implementation of the Pillar. He said that in general it is not clear what exactly the Social Scoreboard, as published by the Commission in April 2017, will be used for or what its relation will be to other sets of indicators. The ETUI has so far only commented on the existing document, the aim not being to provide an alternative. And although the initial scoreboard has been improved since its first appearance on the EC website, much more still needs to be done regarding, for example, the consistency of time periods for comparison, the guiding questions, and the inclusion of more important areas.

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