human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Let’s make Europe work for everyone

At the start of my mandate, Europe counted an invisible Member State. It was populated by disillusioned young Europeans and people living in poverty and social exclusion, some of them even exposed to homelessness.

Such was the legacy of the worst economic crisis in decades: increasing inequality with millions of people left without jobs and by the wayside. We have come a long way since these bleak days. Bolstered by a general economic recovery, the Commission has introduced new policies and reforms. We already see that they are bearing fruit: never before have so many people been at work and 5.6 million fewer people are at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared to 2012.

Thanks to our Youth Guarantee, 3.5 million young people are taking up a quality job or training offer each year. And our guidance to Member States helped to make the fight against long-term unemployment a priority and reduce it by a third. But our most ambitious proposal has undoubtedly been the European Pillar of Social Rights. Consisting of 20 principles and rights, the Pillar is our shared compass for reducing inequalities and achieving upwards convergence. We have mainstreamed the Pillar in the European Semester, making the Semester more social than ever before. In 2018, half of the country-specific recommendations related to social or employment policy. Social inclusion and investing in people are more visible and present than ever before: 17 Member States received a recommendation on active inclusion measures for disadvantaged people and we see a clear increase in recommendations on education and training, social dialogue and healthcare and long-term care.

We are doing more to support people facing disadvantages to participate fully in the labour market and in society. But far more needs to be done. Because despite a general recovery, growth is not benefiting everyone. Migrants and refugees, persons with disabilities and Roma continue to face significant barriers to access the labour market and remain more at risk of poverty or social exclusion. And despite progress, women, young people and older workers are still facing challenges. This means that Europe is missing out on a wealth of talents, and we simply cannot afford it; socially, politically or economically. When we invest in people’s future, we also invest in the future of Europe. We are making Europe work for everyone. With EU funding, with legislation or policy guidance, with benchmarking. Ensuring that people across Europe get the same pay for the same work at the same place. Supporting social dialogue to ensure fair wages. Fostering and financing training, upskilling and reskilling opportunities throughout life. Ensuring that men and women can balance and share their work and care responsibilities. Promoting sustainable pathways for people to participate in society and in the labour market based on accessible and high-quality services. Active labour market policies and adequate income support schemes. We also keep pushing for a European Accessibility Act to help disabled and older people on the labour market by making products and services such as computers, telephony and audiovisual media services accessible.

Together, we can take pride in what we have achieved so far. But we should continue to repair the roof while the sun is shining. The Commission continues to invest in people, our biggest asset, through our policies and budget. To better protect people in the most precarious jobs, we made proposals for better and more predictable working conditions and access to social protection. In addition, we proposed to reserve more than 100 billion euros in the new long-term EU budget for social objectives. We ask Member States to allocate more – at least a quarter of European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) funding – to measures that foster social inclusion and target those most in need. The new ESF+ will integrate the current European Fund for the Most Deprived (FEAD). This will allow for a more strategic policy approach while ensuring that at least 4% of the resources support the most deprived.

Some will say that this is not enough. That despite our policies, strategies, coordination exercises and billions of funding, there are still people who are excluded from the labour market and cannot make ends meet. To that I say that I agree; living in dignity is a human right and not one person should be deprived of it. But I will also say that we should not let the challenges overwhelm and frustrate us. This is not how we can bring solutions to better the lives of people. We should instead build on the momentum that our tremendous, joined-up work for Social Europe has brought about. With the unanimous proclamation of the Pillar by all European leaders and institutions last November in Gothenburg, we have put social at the top of the agenda. Now more than ever, I call for us all to stand together to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. This is not something that the Commission can do alone. From the start, we have involved all stakeholders and we now continue to count on everyone to help make the Pillar a lived reality. Civil society organisations, such as Caritas, have helped shape EU measures but also actually deliver social policies and services on the ground. I am proud of your commitment and achievements. I have seen the results you have brought for people in Europe and I am confident that with strong partnerships even more can be achieved.

Investing in our people is the only path towards making Europe competitive, cohesive and resilient in the future. Because how can Europe prosper if millions of people – the size of a Member State’s population – are unemployed? When almost one in four Europeans faces the risk of poverty? Now that Europe is growing again it is up to all of us to seize this momentum. The upcoming European and indeed national elections will define what kind of Europe we want for us and our children. It is up to us to make sure that this will be a more social, fair and inclusive Europe.

About the author

Marianne Thyssen is Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility. Her portfolio includes overseeing European Union policy on employment, social affairs, vocational training, skills, labour market reforms and social inclusion, including workplace equality legislation. She is also responsible for the statistical office of the European Union (Eurostat). She studied Law at the Catholic University of Leuven where she had her first job at the Law Faculty. Prior to her political career, she was working for UNIZO for more than 10 years (SME representative organisation). After that, she served as a Member of the European Parliament (1991-2014) and as Vice-Chair of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. Marianne Thyssen was also the party leader of the Flemish Christian-Democratic Party (CD&V) and the First Vice-President of the EPP Group in the European Parliament. She was elected Vice-President of the European People’s Party in October 2015.