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24th Feb 2024

Feature

Will 2023 be the year of fair work conditions and social spending?

  • 20 percent of jobs in Europe were of 'poor quality' in 2017 — can the so-called European Semester change that? (Photo: Unsplash)
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Every day, within the Brussels Bubble, dozens of arcane terms and unrecognisable acronyms are used, which to the ordinary citizen sound distant and complex. One of them is the European semester. What does this mean? Aren't all semesters European within the EU? And why is it called a semester if it is annual?

These are legitimate questions. Even some MEPs, elected by EU citizens themselves, have expressed the same concern at not knowing how to make things clear to voters. "The European Semester is a complex process that very few citizens understand," confirmed MEP Stéphanie Yon-Courtin (Renew Europe). "It needs to be simplified".

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  • 'The economic governance model must change and emphasise the social dimension,' Spanish MEP Estrella Durá told EUobserver (Photo: Socialists & Democrats)

In fact, the concept is a framework for coordinating and monitoring member states' fiscal, labour, economic and social policies in order to avoid potential crises in the future.

It was first introduced in 2010 in response to the global financial crisis, and each year the parliament publishes its recommendations before the EU Commission issues the specific guidelines for each member state. It comes in two parts, one purely economic, and the other on social and employment affairs.

Both were adopted during Wednesday's (March 15) plenary session in Strasbourg.

With that clarified, EUobserver asked the rapporteur of the second report, Socialists & Democrats MEP Estrella Durá, what are the social and employment priorities proposed by the parliament before the commission draws up the roadmap for the EU-27.

Here is a summary of the five key points to understand the societal aspects for 2023:

Fairer working conditions

Fair working conditions are at the heart of the European semester. A few facts explain why.

Nearly one-in-four people were at risk of poverty in 2021, and two-in-ten jobs in Europe were of "poor quality" in 2017. That's a reality that can negatively affect the physical and mental health of workers.

The parliament's report proposes more collective bargaining, social dialogue and democracy in the workplace to achieve decent wages, especially against a backdrop where the cost of living has risen sharply.

Among the more concrete proposals, parliament is calling for the minimum wage directive to be implemented as soon as possible (raising it to at least 60 percent of the country's average gross wage); and for the temporary protection mechanism to mitigate the risk of unemployment in emergency situations (SURE) to be made permanent.

Nor does it neglect the most recent transformations and asks the EU executive for a directive to regulate conditions for teleworking in the EU, as well as to guarantee decent conditions in jobs arising in the green or digital economy.

Economic governance — but with a social dimension

The EU's current stability and growth framework is "obsolete" to meet the social and sustainable challenges ahead, according to Durá's report.

By 2024, the commission will propose specific fiscal recommendations for each member state.

"The economic governance model must change and emphasise the social dimension," the Spanish MEP told EUobserver.

The social dimension in the economic governance framework implies taking into account digital and ecological transformations of European economies.

It means "no economic growth objective should be placed above social or environmental objectives", Durá clarified.

Bye-bye, social imbalances

If there are mechanisms to assess economic imbalances within the EU, why not have one to assess social imbalances, the parliament asked — and was heard.

The commission is already studying the proposal to create an instrument to measure these social imbalances, although — in another piece of jargon — call it the social convergence framework.

The aim is to monitor and detect any increase in the gap between rich and poor in a member state, the difference between what men and women earn, or the level of homelessness, with a view to addressing these imbalances between member states, and to understand their underlying causes.

'Flexibility' for the twin transitions

European fiscal rules lack structural measures that go beyond the transitional period and target the medium and long-term, the report notes.

To this end, an assessment of the economic and social situation should be made, and criteria or rules should be implemented, to allow individual adjustment paths for those countries more indebted or whose economies are smaller and with more difficulties.

These adjustments would give more flexibility to carry out the reforms and investments needed for the ongoing green and digital transitions.

To ensure that these reforms and policies (existing and new) are fair, their distributional impact should also be assessed to answer the question: do they contribute to reducing social, economic and regional inequalities? If the answer is no, the social convergence framework would have to do its magic.

Common fund for social and climate needs

The European Sovereignty Fund is a commission proposal to boost the competitiveness of the bloc through investment in member states' strategic industries.

Parliament's recommendations also include that the common fund can be used to address the social, climate and environmental challenges that will come with the green and digital transition.

"The future of investment, if we want to do investment, cannot be foreseen without a social component that responds to the fears and expectations of the young generations and all the citizens in Europe," said MEP Dragos Pislaru (Renew Europe) during a plenary session this week.

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