Observers in Brussels will be shifting their attention to Porto this week as the city on the banks of the Douro River plays host to the European Social Summit on 7-8 May.
The Porto Social Summit comes at a critical and challenging phase as the EU plots its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and adaptation to the digital and green transitions which are the key objectives of the Von Der Leyen Commission. At the same time, the Commission has recently adopted an Action Plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights which reflects the social dimension of these transitions.
It was during the 2017 Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU that the Juncker Commission convened the European Social Summit in Sweden. The Gothenburg Summit established the European Pillar of Social Rights, based on education, employment and poverty reduction. It was aimed at reinvigorating the EU’s priorities towards the needs and aspirations of EU citizens.
What’s on the table?
On the first day of the Summit, European social partners, civil society and other key stakeholders will be joining Heads of State or Government and the Presidents of the institutions to discuss the Union’s social agenda for the next decade and reinforce their commitment to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. These discussions will feed into the second day of the Summit, as European leaders hold an informal meeting, chaired by the President of the European Council Charles Michel, to discuss how to give the highest political impetus and momentum to the European Social Pillar.
The EU’s aim is to achieve a collective, inclusive and cohesive recovery that would give Europe a competitive edge on the global stage as it accelerates its green and digital transition of its economic base. As Europe emerges from the pandemic, policy will shift from protecting jobs, to creating high quality jobs.
While green and digital transitions will result in greater opportunities for EU citizens, Europe needs to be prepared for the challenges these transitions will bring forth. Therefore, a greater emphasis is being placed on education and skills, by investing more in vocational training, education, lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling, aiming at a labour shift towards economic sectors with greater demand.
A strong commitment to reducing inequalities, fighting social exclusion and tackling poverty, specifically addressing the causes of child poverty and addressing exclusion risks of other vulnerable social groups.
As Europe emerges from the pandemic, policy will shift from protecting jobs, to creating high quality jobs.
Efforts will also be stepped up in the fight against discrimination and closing gender gaps in employment pay,while also addressing gender inequalities still prevalent in many European societies.
Lastly, a strong commitment to support young people who have been hit particularly hard during this pandemic. This can be done through the Erasmus+ programme so that young people can re-emerge as the driving force for the green and digital transitions.
The Summit is a timely reminder of Europe’s standing as a beacon of progressive social values and rights, at a time where women’s role in society and her contribution to the economy is under increased pressure due to the pandemic, while gender and racial discrimination is more prevalent and open.
Action is required, and the aims of the Action Plan and the EU’s social agenda more broadly should be applauded. However, if it is going to be a lasting success, it is imperative that implementation will need to go beyond statistical comparisons of national efforts alone. A meaningful exercise that considers the particularities and respects the existing competences of Member States must be at the heart of EU collective action to ensure that this is truly a Union that leaves no one behind.