EU social summit offers prospect to move ‘from principles to action’, presidency says

Portugal's Secretary of State for European affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

Portugal’s Secretary of State for European affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, assured Lusa on Tuesday that there is a prospect of moving “from principles to action” at the planned Social Summit of the European Union to be held next month in Porto, which is to be a centrepiece of the country’s six-month presidency of the Council of the EU.

The summit, which is scheduled to take place on 7 and 8 May, is inspired by the European Commission’s action plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and is to involve not only political agents but also representatives of EU civil society.

“We already have the commitment of the European institutions,” Zacarias said. “What we want to find is the commitment of member states, but even more: our ambition is that also companies and also trade unions and civil society commit themselves to these goals.”

According to the Secretary of State, the “big point” is to move from principles to action, with building on the commitments reached in 2017 at Gothenburg, Sweden, at the Porto summit means “moving from the time of principles to the time of action”.

She added that on the first day of the summit the social partners – representatives of labour and employers – are to have a meeting with European Union heads of state and government, members of the European Parliament and experts whose aim is to agree on a compromise document that is then be communicated to European Council President Charles Michel.

On the second day, heads of state and government are to meet to sign off a similar agreement.

“We are working so that these two documents are somehow compatible and complementary,” Zacarias told Lusa. “The first document is being worked on by us and the Commission; the second document must be originated by the European Council President who is chairing the meeting on the second day … and will be discussed until it reaches its final form.”

She also said that when consulted by Eurobarometer, the EU’s survey arm, citizens say that their main issues of concern are employment, education, health services and the future of pensions.

That is why this is the right time to move from “talk to action”, she declared.

“Targets can always be criticised: it can be said that reducing poverty by 15 million people are too little, but we have to be realistic,” she said. “If we could get seventy-eight percent of the adult population employed it would be very good, especially with quality jobs, equality, with fair minimum wages.

“But, finally, if we could get fifteen million people out of poverty and especially five million children, I think that would be a very important milestone to which, if the trade unions and employers’ associations commit, the member states also have to commit.”

The European Pillar of Social Rights, which was “agreed and proclaimed” in 2017 in Sweden, aimed to address social concerns, with aspects of the agenda mainly in the hands of member states while the EU has a role in coordinating and ensuring that the goals of a fair Europe are achieved.

When heads of state and government and the EU institutions came together in 2017 to make the fundamental statement of the principles by which member states and society as a whole should be governed, they referred to “the importance” of employment, fair wages, social consultation, equal pay and non-discrimination.

In addition to these issues, a second group is also under discussion, related to the right to education and adequate training, as well as a third, related to the issues of gender equality, non-discrimination, aspects related to social support, child protection, protection in health, old age and housing, for a total of 20 principles that are to be discussed in May.

“These are the three big goals of this action plan,” Zacarias said. “We need member states to commit to these targets and say that we need to drive the European social agenda to get us out of this crisis and onto a more cohesive and growth path.

“To reach these goals each one will do as they can, according to their social systems and according to … the common action among member states”, Zacarias concluded.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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