17th Mar 2018


Ten reasons to stop the European social pillar 

  • It's not up to Brussels to centralise the lives of hundreds of millions of European families. (Photo: European Parliament)

The spirit behind the efforts of the European Commission to address the malaise felt by EU citizens towards the Union deserves to be appreciated.

However, it is by no means certain that last month's proposal for a so-called European Pillar of Social Rights is the right remedy, with its EU-level proposals for work-life balance and parental leave.

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On the contrary, there are at least ten reasons to believe the opposite.

Firstly, we must remember that the most social of all policies is one that makes sure that the economy is growing and that there are more and better paying jobs available.

In this regard, the European contribution cannot be overestimated. The creation of the world’s largest market is an extraordinary achievement.

However, the internal market is yet to be completed and that is where the commission's focus should be.

A change in priorities may consume political energy that could otherwise be used for steps to ensure the free flow of more goods, services, capital and people across borders. This negligence risks leading to fewer resources to pay for wages, pensions and other social benefits – thus making Europe less social.

Secondly, when it comes to the internal market, numerous social policies are already in place, such as rules regarding the posting of workers or the access to health care in other member states. The new proposal is about social issues which are not related to people moving across borders.

Thirdly, the Europeanisation of social policies, which aren't related to the internal market, risks undermining the existing programmes of European countries, even though the voters have not expressed any desire for a change in such a direction.

National issues

Fourthly, by the same token, European social policies could be considered an attack on the sovereignty of member states – at a time when the zeitgeist seems to suggest that the prevailing demand is for the opposite.

Fifth, the EU's subsidiarity principle, which prevents the institutions from encroaching on the competences of member states, tells us that decisions should be taken at the most suitable level.

Against this backdrop, there seems to be few reasons to define, say, parental leave regulations in Brussels. The internal affairs of hundreds of millions of European families should not be centralised.

Sixth, there is neither a common European demos, nor enough de facto political arenas at the EU level for such steps to have political and democratic legitimacy.

These are national issues that should be settled in a national context by politicians who are following the debate and have a well-established mandate to deal with social issues.

Social well-being

Seventh, social and labour market policies of European countries should not be a compromise between EU member states, but instead a reflection of the preferences of the citizens of the individual EU country.

Why should a Finn define labour laws in Romania, why should someone from Malta influence parental leave in Denmark, and why should the Portuguese have a say about the minimum wage in Germany?

Eighth, priorities, preconditions and traditions vary greatly between member states. This pluralism is one of Europe’s strengths, not one of its weaknesses.

Ninth, we, the politicians in charge of shaping EU policies, need to stop with the political tone deafness and instinctively thinking that every time the European project is in crisis, new initiatives are the solution.

For those who, in spite of the current atmosphere, need "more Europe", there are still plenty of unfinished projects to get finished with.

Last but not least, reason number ten: the efforts to move towards the creation of a common EU welfare state risks putting the entire European project in danger.

There is very little support for the EU harmonisation of social policies.

Instead, we should work with the tools already in place to make sure that we have the most favourable conditions possible for growth and jobs in Europe. That is the EU’s strongest contribution to the social well-being of its citizens of its member states.

The official motto of the European Union reads “In varietate concordia”, united in diversity. Let us not forget the second half of that phrase. If we don't, then we might lose the first half, as well.

Gunnar Hoekmarkis the leader of the Swedish EPP delegation in the European Parliament and member of the committee on economic affairs.

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