Five clauses for a new European Social Contract

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

epa07374240 First Vice-President of European Commission and top candidate of the Party of European Socialists (PES) for Commission President Frans Timmermans speaks during the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) Congress in Budapest, Hungary, 16 February 2019. At the congess the MSZP leadership choses the candidates for party deputies and outline its program for the upcoming European Union parliamentary elections commencing on 23 May. EPA-EFE/Marton Monus HUNGARY OUT

Socialist employment ministers set out five requirements for a new European Social Contract, ranging from equal pay and social dialogue to reducing inequality.

José António Vieira da Silva, Minister of Labour, Solidarity, and Social Security, Portugal; Hubertus Heil, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Germany; Franziska Giffey, Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Germany; Dan Kersch, Minister for Labour, Employment, Social and Solidarity Economy, Luxembourg; Romain Schneider, Minister for Social Security, Luxembourg; Ján Richter, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, Slovakia; Magdalena Valerio Cordero, Minister of Labour, Migration and Social Security, Spain; Ylva Johansson, Minister for Employment, Sweden

Social progress is a fundamental objective of the EU. The European Welfare States are part
of our economic success, they make us stronger worldwide. Social security is not an economic
burden, but a fundamental element of the European Union, it is a both a social and a
competitive advantage that needs to be protected and continuously developed.

The promise of social progress is embedded in the EU treaties. Yet, our society is not
perceived as being fair enough, citizens feel a loss of control and the repetition of crises left
some long-lasting after-effects in their daily life, across the Union. We must act to keep this
promise. This is the way to show that the EU is a Union for the citizens, which improves their
living and working conditions. It is the way to strengthen solidarity and re-gain confidence in
the EU.

Yes, the financial crisis is by and large behind us. But it would be a huge mistake not to look
at the scars it has left behind. One out of four children in Europe still lives at risks of poverty
or social exclusion. Wages are still increasing twice slower than a decade ago. In too many
countries low paid workers have not yet seen their pay raise, while top earners income
continues to grow fast. Precarious work and unemployment are still too high: newly-created
jobs are mainly temporary or part-time, or fake self- employment, and over 32 million workers
were living under the poverty threshold in 2017. Last but not least, women still earn 16% less
than men on average in the EU.

Inequality within and between EU countries must be dramatically reduced and the
concentration of wealth in the hands of a privileged few must stop. It fuels anti-elite, antipolitics, anti-feminist/gender sentiments and puts wind in the sails of populists. Conservatives’
and Liberals’ trickle-down economics simply have not worked. Radical change is required to
build a project for the future which all Europeans can believe in, which all European can
endorse, which all Europeans can sign up to.

As Socialist and Democrats we are resolutely committed for this change to happen. For us,
social dimension must be at the heart of the European project, ensuring solidarity, social
cohesion and that no one is left behind. As Employment and Social Affairs ministers, this was
our fight in the Council. And we won some battles during this mandate. Our European Youth
Guarantee is a success, it has helped more than 9 million young people find their way to
employment. The revised Posting of workers Directive now better protects workers against
exploitation and unfair competition. We fought hard and obtained the European Pillar of Social
Rights, a compass for the social Europe we want. To implement it we supported the adoption
of directives that better acknowledge parental rights, that better frame employers’ obligation
towards workers in non-standard forms of employment, such as digital workers and that
establish a European Labour Authority. We also adopted a Recommendation on access to
social protection to all workers.

These are important steps, but we want to go further. For all citizens to regain a sense that
there is a place for them in the society that comes, in the EU, we support a new Social Contract
for Europe.

Inequality within and between EU countries must be reduced, and it is crucial to prevent
poverty, protect those in need and create opportunities for all. For us the first clause of this
contract acknowledges a European duty to protect people if they fall sick, lose their job, suffer
disabilities or fall on hard times. The right to quality healthcare, free education, decent
pensions and affordable housing is universal and must be defended. We want to promote a
Child Guarantee to put an end to child poverty and make sure that the nearly 25 million children under 18 are at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU are no longer left behind.

The second clause of this contract clearly states that unemployment and social exclusion must
be tackled collectively, not dismissed as individual failings. People of all ages have a right to
work, to education, training, lifelong learning and to live in dignity.

Our contract stipulates that Europe is a continent of welfare with strong welfare states, social
safety nets, and quality public services. It is this welfare system that prevents poverty and
protects citizens and particularly those in need, may they be young, old, in precarious work or
unemployed.

Our contract sets the principle of equal pay for equal work at the same place as a clear rule.
Gender should not be a reason for lower wages. Lower wages should not be used for
unscrupulous companies to integrate dumping on their business model. There must be
minimum wages, by law or collective bargaining, to protect all European workers.

And finally, our new social contract makes it clear that social dialogue is a cornerstone of our
social model, that trade unions must be further supported and the primacy of collective
bargaining be restored, as the best way to improve wages and working conditions.
The May 2019 European elections are our opportunity to change the EU and build a fairer
Europe. It’s time for social progress to happen. This is the fight of our common candidate,
Frans Timmermans. It is the fight of Social Democrats across Europe. It is our fight. Our
signature stands already at the end of this new European social contract, what about yours?

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