25th Mar 2018


Social Pillar: Reasons why MEP Hoekmark is wrong

  • After years of austerity that has damaged the social systems of Europe, this emphasis on a Social Europe is necessary. (Photo: stuartpilbrow)

I am afraid that MEP Gunnar Hoekmark, from the centre-right EPP group, has misunderstood the role of the European social pillar, which was recently proposed by the European Commission. Contrary to what Hoekmark claims, it is not and was never intended to be a detailed set of policies for how member states should manage their social systems.

The social pillar is about preserving and emphasising the social role that the EU already has. The pillar also serves to remind the member states of their social responsibilities. As such, it does not undermine national legislation. The Nordic model is in fact not affected at all.

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Furthermore, the role of subsidiary – which prevents the EU from stepping into the competences of member states – the respect for national models and the social partners is also a part of the social pillar, of course.

In fact, most of the parts of the social pillar already exist in the EU treaties or have been adopted in council conclusions.

But rather, the pillar emphasises and recalls already existing regulations and agreements. There is a long-standing agreement that it is in Europe’s best interest to have strong common minimum standards for social policy.

After years of austerity that has damaged the social systems of Europe, this emphasis on a social Europe is necessary. We have to focus on building our societies, not tearing them down.

Key word: Minimum

The key word here is minimum. Member states can always go further in their social legislation.

At the same time, it is essential to have a common base-level, as it enables the member states to compete – not on poor conditions but through skills, knowledge and quality.

We have a common market and that includes a common labour market. If goods and services are going to be able to flow freely, we need minimum standards to ensure that this does not result in social dumping.

If anything, we have to realise that this social base-level is not strong enough.

When truck drivers are paid slave wages and forced into an inhuman existence due to holes in EU legislation, we have to recognise the need to strengthen the law to ensure that a social Europe becomes a reality.

Job creation does not, and should not, stand in contradiction to good jobs with decent wages. Austerity politics is the real threat to jobs, which is why it is necessary to balance EU politics with a renewed emphasis on social policy.

The European Union has a social role to play, intertwined with the potential for economic growth.

Antiquated worldview

It is an antiquated worldview that economies best thrive when there is as little regulation as possible. If anything, the Nordic model has shown that a strong social model is necessary for economic growth in the 21st century.

Businesses cannot exist in a vacuum. Workers who are cared for at their jobs, and outside, are more productive and better able to cope in a fast-changing economy.

For too long the focus of the EU has only been on what is best for business. We have to see the entire Europe to be able to thrive.

MEP Hoekmark mentions parental leave as an example. If he truly cares about the growth of the European economy, he should recognise the need for women to participate in the labour market. The absence of women is a common problem across Europe and damaging to the block as a whole.

Honestly, I doubt very much that European citizens are sitting at home wondering why European policies are too social. It is time that we ensure a proper level playing field for our citizens. Perhaps especially through the revision of the posting of workers directive.

Today’s scepticism towards the EU does not come from citizens who think they have too many social rights. It comes from citizens who are afraid of losing their social rights.

Europe needs to be fair for all and socially minded. It is quite out of touch with reality for politicians to think that the EU will last if it continues to put business interests above ordinary people’s rights to good jobs and a better life.

Marita Ulvskog is an MEP and a Swedish Social Democrat. She is also the first vice chair of the employment committee in the European Parliament.

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The central idea of the social pillar is to move the design and management of member states’ social systems from national to the European level, writes Swedish centre-right MEP Gunnar Hoekmark.

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