European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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5 December 2017

Using the EMU to make the most out of the Social Pillar

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The European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), proclaimed on 17 November in Gothenburg, was put forward by the EU institutions with the objective of rebalancing the economic and social dimensions of the EU. However, the EPSR is a soft law instrument and might not be sufficiently strong to ensure actual implementation of its principles.

In their recently published policy brief, ETUI researchers Zane Rasnača and Sotiria Theodoropoulou propose intergovernmental cooperation as a possible route for implementing the principles of the Pillar that are of vital importance to the smooth functioning of the eurozone. Such an intergovernmental cooperation treaty could and should be open to non-eurozone Member States to participate in.

Concerns about the relative weakness of the social dimension of the European Monetary Union (EMU) are not new, but with the considerable divergence in social and economic development in the wake of the economic crisis, especially between the ‘core’ and the ‘periphery’ of the eurozone, as well as the rise of parties with strongly Eurosceptic agendas, embodying an overall lack of trust in the EU, they have become all the more relevant. The Pillar was adopted with the intention of mainstreaming social objectives across EU policies, including those concerning the EMU. However, as the authors of this policy brief argue, the legal form of the EPSR ‘could be heavily criticised for its weakness’. What is more, recent changes in the preamble seem to weaken the content even further.

According to the authors, the possibility of a broad political consensus across the EU28 to adopt common social standards is not realistic, and there is no legal basis for doing so solely for the eurozone countries. They therefore propose the route of intergovernmental cooperation, which could be used to achieve consensus on some of the principles contained in the pillar. They argue that ‘the momentum for such a consensus could be built more easily among the Eurozone Member States and then be extended to the rest of the EU’. There are legal precedents of intergovernmental cooperation that we can look to for guidance, for example in the establishment of the Schengen system and the adoption of the Fiscal Compact. The European semester is another route for enforcing the Pillar’s principles, but admittedly a much weaker one. The authors conclude: ‘Ultimately […] social principles should be placed at the heart of all economic policies in the EU if the social dimension is ever to be rebalanced with the economic’.

Download here the policy brief

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