Resetting our European social model

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

It is time for parental leave systems to treat men and women equally, so that women's participation in the workplace continues to grow. [Shutterstock]

Even though European social systems have served us well in the past, the financial crisis means that we must adapt our social model to new realities. We must build a strong Pillar of Social Rights to bring security and opportunities to our citizens, write Joseph Daul, Marianne Thyssen and Marc Spautz.

Joseph Daul is the president of the European People’s Party, representing The Republicans at national level; Marianne Thyssen is Commissioner for Employment and is Belgium’s representative in the Juncker Commission; and Marc Spautz is the president of the Christian Social People’s Party of Luxembourg (CSV).

The European continent has a unique social model offering some of the highest social standards in the world. Nowhere else do people enjoy such a high social level of protection or living standards. But while unemployment in the EU has decreased consistently in recent years, we still have more than 20 million jobless across Europe.

We have managed to stabilise poverty levels in the EU which increased with the outbreak of the crisis in 2008; yet still, more than 120 million Europeans are struggling to make ends meet.

We need a Social Market Economy for every EU citizen, one in which no one is left behind. Societies are strong when all citizens are given opportunities to become the best they can be, and a strong social policy plays an important role in achieving this goal. In order to deliver a better social Europe for our citizens, we must continue reforming existing systems and addressing the present gaps.

This includes investing in people’s skills, ensuring work-life balance and gender equality across Europe and putting in place sustainable social protection systems.

First, the rapid pace of technological progress is changing our economies. It also has a profound effect on labour markets. Citizens are being asked to adapt to these changes and acquire the new skills needed for future success. But many Europeans feel unsure of their future prospects and uncertain whether their current skills will be needed in the future.

Investing more in skills and making life-long learning a reality, instead of just a mantra, should be a top priority for EU countries. People must have access to quality training and education in order to learn new skills to remain relevant in ever changing labour markets. Equipping Europeans with more and better skills by better connecting the world of business and education is an investment in our future. When people have higher skills, their job chances improve. By investing in people we can raise Europe’s competitiveness.

While not everyone can begin from the same starting point, we can work together to ensure that everyone has access to, and can reach, the same levels of success and wellbeing. Social policy must be seen as an investment in our citizens, helping them to move forward in difficult times.

EU citizens deserve to feel secure and confident that Europe will help redirect them to better opportunities in case of job loss.

Secondly, we must ensure work-life balance and gender equality across Europe. As demographic changes drastically worsen our dependency ratio from four to two working-age persons per pensioner by 2060, the EU must try to mitigate the effect of this shift by making sure all working-age people will participate in the future labour market.

Although women’s participation in the labour market is at a historic high, it is still more than 10% lower than men’s. An unequal division of parenthood-related costs remains one of the main causes. It is time Europe adapts to new working realities and ensures that parental leave systems treat both parents equally, without discriminating against women.

Costs related to parenthood should be equally divided, and access to high-quality and affordable childcare must be guaranteed to allow young families to combine both parenthood and career.

Thirdly, we must put in place sustainable social protection systems to guarantee strong employee protection and rights. Moreover, our pension systems should be based on a sound fiscal basis so that people who have worked their whole lives can receive an adequate pension which enables them to support themselves once retired.

We must also put in place the right social policies and conditions to ensure that every one of working age can contribute to the pension systems, mitigate the effects of demographic change, and ultimately improve our welfare in the long run.

Finally, labour mobility remains too limited in the EU. More efforts must be made to make it more appealing. Mobile labour must enjoy the same rights, remuneration and obligations as other employees.

We believe that economic growth and social progress can go hand-in-hand to make our society inclusive for all. Our efforts must be geared towards a job-rich recovery for the benefit of all citizens so that faith can be restored in a Europe that delivers results.

This opinion piece first appeared in Luxemburger Wort.

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