In 2017 at the Gothenburg Summit, a fundamental document was issued by the European Institutions.
The European Pillar for Social Rights sets out specific principles, to be considered as background for the future development of our continent in terms of a fair and inclusive society. 20 key principles have been defined spanning from equal opportunities and access to the labour markets for all, to fair and equal social protection and inclusion services (go to this link to look at the full list).
Since 2017, many initiatives have been started from the Commission to promote the European Social Pillar. Furthermore, a huge debate has started throughout Europe on how the key 20 principles are adopted as central targets in other European programmes and initiatives, in particular against the current pandemic crisis.
For the next 7th of May 2021, the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union will be organising in the city of Porto, the European Social Summit, focussing on how to strengthen Europe’s social dimension to meet the challenges of climate change and the digital transition, and in order to ensure equal opportunities for all in the next years.
The EU Social Summit in Porto will spark the political dialogue at the highest level on how to implement the Social Pillar and shape a vision for 2030 targets. A final result of the Porto Social Summit will be the final definition of an Action Plan, in its first version issued by the Commission on March 2021.
Sessions of the Social Summit will give the opportunity to people around Europe to attend and take part to discussion on the European Social Pillar and its targets and impacts on lives, jobs, fair working conditions, equal opportunities, better health care and social protection.
The Action Plan can be also considered as a result of a broad consultation launched by the Commission on January 2020 until November 2020. Over 1000 replies were sent from individual citizens, civil society organisations, governments, industry and social partners, think tanks, universities and other organisations.
The Action Plan proposes direct initiatives to implement the contents and principles of the European Pillar for Social Rights. It provides the joint effort by European institutions together with national, regional and local authorities, social partners and civil society organisations.
The Action Plan sets out a number of EU actions and puts forward three key EU-level targets to be achieved by 2030 and that will help to steer national policies and reforms.The targets are defined also having in consideration the social background that we as Europeans happened to live in the current times of pandemic:
“In December 2020, 16 million people were out of work and youth unemployment was at 17.8%, considerably higher than general unemployment. Low-skilled, low-paid workers, and temporary workers were the first to be laid-off due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Migrants’ participation in the labour market was also disproportionally affected by the pandemic. Although skills are essential to equip people for the new green and digital jobs and help shield workers from unemployment, under 40% of adults participate in any form of training every year and still too many young people have only a low level of skills or do not reach upper secondary education level. Women who, in 2018 still earned on average 14% less than men, continue to shoulder the bulk of care responsibilities in the household and struggle to enter and remain in the labour market, with consequences also on their pensions. Before the pandemic, 91 million people were at risk of poverty or social exclusion and 22.2% of children lived in poor households. Approximately 700,000 people are estimated to sleep on the streets across Europe on any given night.”
On the basis of these social drawbacks, the European Commission proposes to Member States, the common definition of three general targets to be achieved in 2030. These targets involve the central dimensions of employment, skills, and social protection for the European population.They are also consistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the strategies already underlined in the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021—2027 and NextGenerationEU programmes.
At least 78% of the population aged 20 to 64 should be in employment by 2030.
With an employment rate in the EU of 73.1% in 2019, the Europe 2020 employment rate target of 75% was almost reached. Despite the EU’s best efforts, the COVID-19 crisis has put a halt on a 6-year positive employment progress, with an employment rate of 78.3% for men and 66.6% for women by the third quarter of 2020. In order to achieve the overall goal, Europe must strive to:• at least halve the gender employment gap compared to 2019;• increase the provision of formal early childhood education and care (ECEC);• decrease the rate of young people neither in employment, nor in education or training (NEETs) aged 15—29 from 12.6% (2019) to 9%.
At least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year
In the context of recovery and of the twin transitions, increasing adult participation in training to 60% is paramount to improve employability, boost innovation, ensure social fairness and close the digital skills gap. Yet, by 2016 only 37% of adults were participating in learning activities each year. For the low-qualified adults this rate only reached 18%.
Efforts must therefore be strengthened to increase adult participation in training and to improve the levels of achievement in initial education and training. In particular:
• at least 80% of those aged 16-74 should have basic digital skills, a precondition for inclusion and participation in the labour market and society in a digitally transformed Europe.
• early school leaving should be further reduced and participation in upper secondary education increased.
The number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion should be reduced by at least 15 million by 2030
Poverty and social exclusion have declined in the EU in the last decade. In 2019 around 91 million people (out of which 17.9 million were children aged 0—17) were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU, close to 12 million less than in 2008, and around 17 million less than the peak in 2012.
Still, the ambitious Europe 2020 social target of a 20 million reduction was not met. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to worsen the situation, leading to higher levels of financial insecurity, poverty and income inequality in the short term. Out of 15 million people to lift out of poverty or social exclusion, at least 5 million should be children.
The Social Pillar Action Plan also includes all the interventions that the European Commission commits to implement to contribute to the achievement of the 2030 targets.
One of them is to take action on the commitments defined in its Reccomendation of 4.3.2021 “on an effective active support to employment following the COVID-19 crisis (EASE)”. Another one is to build the revision of the European Social Scoreboard System, fundamental tool in order to measure the collective achievements throughout Europe on social improvements (look at its implementation in the JRC website page).