Nicolas Schmit

Commentary on EU's social policy plans: Shaping Europe’s Future with Capable Social Partners

The EU heads of state and government want to set the course for a more social Europe. This can only succeed in close cooperation with the social partners. A guest commentary by EU Commissioner Nicolas Schmit.

by Nicolas Schmit

This week, an informal summit meeting of the heads of state and government is being held in Porto. On the eve of the meeting the Portuguese Council presidency is organising a high-level European conference in which the European social partners and representatives of civil society will also participate. The objective of both meetings is to strengthen Social Europe through a clear commitment to implementing the principles of the European pillar of social rights in concrete policies.

To this end the European Commission has adopted an Action Plan containing a set of proposals for a ‘strong Social Europe for Just Transitions and recovery’. Many member states that have yet to fully overcome the effects of the financial and economic crisis have been hard hit once again by the crisis triggered by the pandemic. This time, however, Europe has shown more solidarity, aimed at conquering the crisis together.

At the same time, European economies face enormous challenges. These include environmental restructuring and thus a transition towards climate neutrality, as well as the acceleration of digitalisation in all areas. These transformations harbour new possibilities, but also pose new risks to societies and populations.

The creation of new and decent jobs, equal treatment and equality of opportunities for men and women, fair working conditions – also in the platform economy – the safeguarding of our social systems in a time of rapid change, combating increasing inequalities and tackling the poverty proliferating in every EU country, these are only some of the major challenges that policymakers will have to cope with in the coming years. On top of that are the necessary investments in skills, as well as training and further training, and the right to lifelong learning.

Implementing the Action Plan is a common political obligation both for the European institutions and bodies, and for national governments and regional authorities. It depends, however, on strong dialogue between the social partners, and at all levels. The social market economy requires capable social partners. That is all the more important in a period of far-reaching change.

The European Commission thus regards it as essential that the social partners participate in developing national ‘recovery plans’, also because these national plans are supposed to support the implementation of the social pillar. We will not be able to get on top of economic transformation, which requires even bigger changes in companies, without boosting workers’ voice. That means that codetermination, where it exists and is working well, must not be undermined. Europeanising companies, which is welcome in itself, must under no circumstances be permitted to undermine codetermination.

On the contrary, these rights need to be extended. The economy of the twenty-first century needs more participation rights, not least because it involves strengthening companies’ co-responsibility for general welfare. We need a new political will to bring economic, social and environmental progress into closer harmony. Democracy in economic life and the world of work can make a decisive contribution to that.

Nicolas Schmit is the EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights.