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A Social Europe for All

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail. (Ref: Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union)

Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union describes the values upon which the European union was established, aiming to lay a foundation for the Union based on human rights, equality, and social inclusion. The EU started off as the European Economic Community in 1957 and the initial concerns of the Union mainly revolved around breaking down barriers to enable the free movement people, goods, services, and capital. A social dimension could be viewed through reforms in workplace regulations at EU level, gender equality, health and safety, and the introduction of protections against redundancy, etc. all of which were tied to the economic aims of the union.

There has never been a single European social model and individual member states developed their own social services and social welfare systems. In recent times we have seen the idea of “EU interference” being viewed with increasing negativity within some EU countries. Despite this, there are common principles that European countries have adapted, including redistribution through taxation; publicly funded services; and a commitment to social rights and entitlements.

Throughout the years a variety of policies, strategies, and treaties, have emerged to drive forward the principles guiding a social Europe, this includes EU structural funds which started in 1958 and the Poverty Programmes which ran from 1974 to 1994. The Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 incorporated the Agreement on Social Policy into the revised Social Chapter of the Treaty. This Treaty also provided a legal basis for the European Commission to coordinate work by Governments on a range of areas including employment and social inclusion. The Lisbon Treaty in 2007 introduced a ‘Social Clause’ which requires the EU, in defining all of its policies to: “take into account requirements linked to the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion and a high level of education, training, and protection of human health.”

In the more recent past the EU has developed a range of targets aimed at reducing poverty and social exclusion and promoting active inclusion, as was highlighted by the aims within the Europe 2020 strategy. This strategy contained targets on education and employment and a commitment to ‘lift at least 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by 2020’ (reducing it from 117 million to 97 million people.)The EU 2020 strategy, which was agreed and published in 2010, coincided with a global economic crisis, and with many EU countries bearing the brunt of austerity policies during this period, in the end the EU only achieved half of its poverty target by 2020, with more than one in five people in the EU at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

In 2017 the EU adopted the European Pillar for Social Rights. The Pillar contains 20 principles and rights which are aimed at improving employment and social standards across the EU. The principles and rights cover the areas of i) equal opportunities and access to labour market ii) fair working conditions and iii) social protection and inclusion, including access to quality services and adequate social welfare supports as well as addressing child poverty and the inclusion of people with disabilities. In 2021 the Action Plan for the Implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights was published. The primary targets within the implementation plan for the European Pillar, to be achieved by 2030, include:

1. The number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion should be reduced by at least 15 million, at least 5 million of these should be children.

2. At least 78% of people aged 20 to 64 should be in employment.

3. At least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year.

Concerns have been raised that the poverty targets contained within the Action Plan for the Implementation of the European Pillar are not nearly ambitious enough, especially in light of the extensive negative social and economic impacts of the recent global COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for low income and marginalised groups. It remains to be seen how each EU member state plans on meeting the targets set out within the action plan, however in order to address poverty and social exclusion in a long-term and meaningful capacity, the targets within the plan should be viewed as the minimum standard of what the EU needs to achieve by 2030. This is critical if we truly wish to honour the principles within the European Pillar of Social Rights and the values as represented by the Treaty on the European Union.

As Europe tries to rebuild and navigate a post pandemic social and economic landscape, we have sadly seen this year, the emergence of full-blown war in Ukraine and as a result, a burgeoning refugee crisis, as women, children, and older people, flee in order to find safety and security in countries throughout Europe. Now is the time we must call on Governments across Europe to develop policies and legislation that address poverty, inequality, and assist those in society most in need. The EU as a whole must prove itself to be a strong leader in this regard upholding the Article 2 values of justice, equality, the rule of law, and solidarity. In 2022 these values are more vital than ever, and should be viewed as concepts applicable not only within the EU but values that must be shared with all countries across Europe and beyond.

You can find more information on the topics raised in the above post in the following briefings:

The Development of a Social Europe

The EU and how it works.

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