EU agencies push case for solidarity as ‘Social Union’ proposal nears

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A week before the European Commission presents its proposals for a "Social Union", four key EU agencies called for social policy to be mainstreamed into Europe's response to the economic crisis on Wednesday (25 September).

Around the table at the Parliament event were the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), the European Training Foundation (ETF), the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) and the European agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA).

Discussing the "European social model", which has come under renewed pressure following the 2008 financial and economic crisis, participants referred to EU member states’ social protection systems and adherence to social dialogue as indispensable pillars of a healthy economy.

Christian Lettmayr, the Director of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) said his agency’s data showed the need for apprenticeships and vocational training to support growth. “Enterprises have to become learning organisations,” he said.

Christa Sedlatschek, the Director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), stressed the importance of health and safety standards for SMEs (small and medium enterprises), saying they were vital for a thriving business.

And the European Commission’s deputy director-general for education and culture, Xavier Prats Monné, said that "the European Union must protect social integration and combat discrimination” in order to achieve higher rates of employment and economic growth.

“We must make an economic case for solidarity,” he stressed.

Social dimension to crisis

As EU ministers prepared to discuss Europe's global industrial competitiveness at the ‘Competitiveness Council’ today (27 September), the parliamentary event stressed the importance of social dialogue and policymaking as an essential part of the growth debate.

As announced by Commission president José Manuel Barroso in this year's state of the union speech, the EU Executive will present a communication on the social dimension of economic and monetary union next week (2 October).

László Andor, the EU Commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said: “The crisis has thought us some lessons. We need to create a more resilient socio-economic model. In order to revive from the crisis, Europe needs to reform its model.”

Andor underlined that the social model was part of Europe's DNA, saying that Article 3 of the EU Treaty impels the bloc to promote economic – “and social” – cohesion.

“These are not just objectives, but must be at the core of our policy making,” the commissioner stressed.

But there were some discordant notes. Speaking at the event, the Austrian MEP Heinz Becker (European People's Party) said the EU might be putting the cart before the horse. “One high-level topic is hanging above our heads – it is the ‘social union’. We are not in the position to work on this. A fiscal and economic union must be clearly outlined before we talk about a social union.”

EU heads of states and government said at their June 2013 meeting that “the social dimension of the EMU should be strengthened”, in an apparent breakthrough for France.

Discussions over the reinforcement of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) will conclude at the December 2013 EU summit, the statement read. The EU leaders vowed to take the first step in October by introducing statistical indicators to better monitor social and labour market conditions.

Following up on the summit calls, the European Commission is drafting proposals to deepen the social dimension of the EMU.

The announcement was made by Commission President José Manuel Barroso during his 2013 State of the Union speech in the European Parliament.

The policy initiative will be presented on 2 October.

  • 2 Oct: European Commission presents communication on the 'social dimension of the EMU'
  • 24-25 Oct.: EU summit to look at indicators for the social dimension of the EMU
  • 19-20 Dec.: EU summit to decide on way forward to deepen EMU

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