22nd Mar 2018


MEP Ulvskog is wrong about the social pillar

  • The social pillar calls for a uniformity that would undermine European unity. (Photo: European Parliament)

Swedish social democratic MEP Marita Ulvskog claims, in her reply to my criticism of the EU pillar of social rights, that it "is not and was never intended to be a detailed set of policies for how member states should manage their social systems".

As vice-chair of the European Parliament employment committee, Ulvskog should be aware of the policies she advocates and the reports she votes in favour of.

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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.

The European Commission, in its communication presented on 26 April, states all various instruments available will be mobilised at European level in order to enforce the pillar.

However, the communication is only the commission's first guideline on its own position. Other positions go much further.

The European parliament adopted a resolution on the pillar on the 19 January.

Marita Ulvskog voted in favour of this report, which called on the commission to "put forward proposals for a stable European pillar of social rights that do not stop in the declaration of principles or good intentions, but help to strengthen social rights through concrete and specific tools (legislation, mechanisms for policy making and financial instruments)”.

Further, it specified that the parliament “recommends the establishment of wage floors in the form of a national minimum wage”, as well as “including legislative proposals as regards maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, careers’ leave, access to quality care services and flexible working time arrangements”.

It should be clear what the full implications of the social pillar are.

It is not more European because it is decided in Brussels. Different traditions, preconditions and priorities characterise the different EU member states.

Neither is it more social, nor European, because it is only one pillar neglecting the differences instead of the different social pillars related to each member states' priorities and economic opportunities.

It is time to start debating the real issue. The suggested pillar will not pave the way for a more social Europe. What is needed for that is cohesion in structural reforms in order to facilitate economic growth and jobs for all.

Welfare needs vary between countries, depending on different values, traditions, priorities and economic conditions. For the vast majority of European citizens, welfare is an issue we do not want to compromise on. This will sow discord among member states and create conflict.

Minimum standards are harmonisation. Let us look at the new commission proposal on parental leave: not only do they introduce further quotas for parental leave, but also stipulate that parental leave should be at least eight months. This would be a major intrusion on national sovereignty.

The European Union is the most important project of our lifetime.

Many issues are suited for decisions at the European level. These include trade agreements, environmental matters and questions about the internal market and our digital market, and not least in our times – foreign and security policy. But our welfare or social security schemes are not such issues.

The serious thing is that the whole idea of a social pillar is opposed to subsidiarity, national sovereignty and the diversity that makes Europe strong. It calls for a uniformity that will undermine European unity.

It will lead to an EU that temporarily regulates the everyday lives and welfare of citizens.

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

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