EU election 2019: What next for Social Europe?

Miniature people standing on piles of different heights of coins. [Hyejin Kang/Shutterstock]

In November 2017, the European Commission launched the European Pillar of Social Rights, which resulted in 25 legislative initiatives. Ahead of the EU elections this week, EURACTIV looks at what the main political parties have on offer for social Europe.

EPP: Families at the core of the EU’s social policy

“We want to bring this European model of our social market economy into the 21st century,” the European People’s Party claims.

Although the EU recently passed a bill on work-life balance, they EPP insists on the need to facilitate greater choice for parents to balance their work and caring responsibilities, as a way to reduce the gender pay gap.

The party proposes to “significantly increase” the European Fund for Transition as a way to support workers who lose their job as a consequence of digitalisation or globalisation.

The EPP is the only party that dedicates a specific section to family policy, although it contends that family law should remain a national competence.

“We want Europe to be a safe home where new families can grow,” the party says, adding it wants to create job opportunities for young people in their countries as way to stop the “brain drain”.

The EPP defends health policies as a way to support families, in particular with regards to Europe’s ageing population. For the elderly, they propose to improve conditions for those creating businesses at a later stage of their lives.

EU lawmakers give green light to strengthening parents and carers' rights

The European Parliament backed on Thursday (4 April) the work-life balance directive, which introduces a set of minimum standards to help reconcile work and family responsibilities for parents and carers in Europe, and thus improve gender equality. 

PES: A new Social Contract for Europe

Unsurprisingly, Social Europe is at the heart of the programme of the Party of European Socialists,

“We must guarantee citizens’ well-being and ensure social and ecological progress, leaving no person and no territory behind in the green and digital transitions,” they claim.

Socialists are calling for an end to austerity policies. They want to fight inequalities in Europe by strengthening workers’ rights and ensuring access to health, education and pensions for everybody.

Among their flagship proposals, they want to establish a “decent” minimum wages across Europe and introduce a European complementary unemployment insurance scheme, to support member states in the event of a sudden upsurge in unemployment.

Socialists want a stronger European Labour Authority and, more generally, stronger welfare systems across Europe. They are commit to fighting energy and water poverty and put forward a plan for affordable housing too.

The PES also stands for women’s rights, proposing an EU Gender Equality Strategy to fight the pay and pension gaps. They want to combat sexual and gender-based violence, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights. As part of a better work-life balance, the PES wants both men and women to face their child caring responsibilities, arguing this will also help fight the gender gap at work.

Socialists are also calling for an end to all legal barriers that prevent LGBTI people from living “freely, equally and with respect.”

MEPs approve the creation of the European Labour Authority

On Tuesday (16 April), MEPs approved the creation of a European Labour Authority, as well as several positions that favour the rights of European workers and combat social dumping. But major changes still need to be made. EURACTIV France reports.

ACRE: No place for social Europe

“The EU is a trading block, not a social security scheme,” argue the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe.

“The common market must not be used as a pretext for creating additional regulation such as attempts to harmonize taxes, as well as social and health care systems,” they claim.

ALDE: Social Europe to fill the gender gap 

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe defend “a Europe that renews its promise of a strong social contract for a competitive economy.”

Beyond a proposed plan to boost job creation, how this would be translated in practice remains unclear, however.

During the presidential debate, Liberal candidate Margrethe Vestager aligned with the PES proposal to establish a decent minimum wage across Europe.

The main focus in their programme when it comes to social issues is on the labour gender gap. ALDE calls for making further progress and assessing the effectiveness of existing public policies and workplace practices in this area.

Still on gender, the Liberals are calling on all EU member states to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. This should be a priority, the Liberals stress.

They also defend access to affordable, good-quality sexual and reproductive health care services.

EU elections 2019: What do parties propose for young people?

Only 28% of Europeans aged 16 to 24 voted in the last EU election in 2014 compared to a total turnout of 42%. Ahead of this week’s vote, EURACTIV looked at the proposals for young people coming from the main European political parties.

European Left: A Europe of solidarity for all  

The Leftists argue that the financial crisis “served as the pretext for reinforcing neo-liberalism, for imposing barbaric austerity plans, and social and democratic regressions,” which according to them, has led to the rise of the far-right.

The Left proposes to change the mission of the European Central Bank so that it includes employment goals, protect and extend workers’ rights and social rights, as well as strengthening the collective bargaining power of trade unions.

Like socialists and liberals, the Left believes in the need to improve work-life balance to ensure women enter the labour market.

When it comes to gender issues, they want to put an end to education inequality between men and women, decriminalise abortion and ensure free access to sexual and reproductive healthcare in all member states. Sex education and contraception must be included in all European programs related to education and health, they argue.

In its programme, the European Left also includes the right to universal access to comprehensive healthcare, access to social services and care for disabled persons, and guaranteed pensions for everyone.

They advocate for the introduction of legal gender recognition, same-sex marriage and right of adoption for LGBTQI people too.

No one, they claim, shall be subject to any form of discrimination. Residents and immigrants should be entitled to the same rights.

However, most of these issues remain a national competence.

Greens: Strenthening the Social Pillar to protect workers

The European Greens consider the fight against climate change a social issue, saying the poorest people are also the ones suffering the most from its consequences.

To do that, the Greens propose establishing a European scheme to provide social security and retraining for workers in transition industries. At the moment, the Union relies on the Fund for Transition to do this.

Like the Left, the Greens reject austerity policies which, they argue, have resulted in increasing poverty and deteriorating public services. Reverting this should be a priority, they argue.

To strengthen the Social Pillar, they propose introducing new European legislation to ensure adequate minimum income in all EU countries, taking the local living standards and differences in national systems into account. The Greens also call for studies to explore the introduction of a universal basic income.

The party wants stronger protection for cross-border workers. They propose a European social security number and better recognition of professions.

They recognise the need to do more to protect those in non-traditional jobs such as the self-employed or platform workers and support the introduction of an unemployment insurance scheme for the Eurozone.

Addressing psychological health risks as a consequence of work-related issues and more flexible working arrangements is part of their programme too.

Gender issues are also on the Greens’ social agenda. On their programme: stronger laws to ensure equal pay for equal work, better protection for pregnant workers and improved access to affordable high-quality childcare.

Furthermore, the Greens highlight the need to secure access to affordable healthcare, housing and education for everyone. They also call for infrastructure, transport and communications to be accessible for people with disabilities.

Like the Socialists and the Left, the Greens defend access to free good-quality and safe sexual and reproductive healthcare, including abortion. Like the Liberals, they call on EU member states to implement the Istanbul Convention to fight gender-based violence.

They also stand for the rights for LGBTQI people to be recognised across the whole of Europe.

Social security reform postponed until next European Parliament

Deep divisions among MEPs made it clear on Thursday (19 April) that the social security coordination directive, aimed at enforcing the rights of mobile workers, would be postponed for the next European Parliament, after May’s EU elections.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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