A wind of change is blowing through Europe. It was not a coincidence that the Gothenburg Social Summit took place in 2017, right after the disappointing Brexit referendum result in the United Kingdom.
Europe’s leaders have had to learn the hard way and find out what it means if you ignore for too long the concerns of ordinary people trying to make ends meet. The European Pillar of Social Rights provided the impetus for setting this straight. Now, we have the opportunity to make history in Porto, when we turn these rights into tangible social progress for all by 2030.
While the European prescription for recovery from the previous crisis was to lower minimum wages, reduce coverage of sectoral collective bargaining and cut the welfare state, the tide is now turning. Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa was the first to present an alternative approach by increasing the minimum wage in Portugal in the midst of the previous crisis.
“While the European recipe for recovery from the previous crisis was to lower minimum wages, reduce coverage of sectoral collective bargaining and cut the welfare state, the tide is now turning”
The Portuguese EU Council Presidency is once again taking the initiative by making social progress a top European priority. We cannot go back to business as usual when we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
Late last year, the European Parliament adopted its position for the upcoming Porto Social Summit. The report, co-authored by myself and Dennis Radtke, on a Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions, was adopted with a solid majority. This reflects the great appetite for a more social Europe - nine out of ten citizens support this.
Inequality is on the rise both within and between European countries. The EU’s economy is growing, but workers’ wages lag behind. Thousands are living on the streets and homelessness is on the increase.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and amplified these problems. This is not how we envisage Europe’s future; we need to step up to fight this, at local, national and at European levels.
As is the case with climate action, we need a new horizon for social progress.
Therefore, in the Parliament’s position, we agreed on a number of concrete social objectives to be reached by 2030. We must eliminate in-work poverty, increase the level of collective bargaining coverage to 90 percent and establish minimum income schemes to cover everyone in need.
Moreover, the Child Guarantee Scheme must cover all children in need and we need to eliminate the gender pay gap as well as ensuring access to decent housing for all. I am pleased that the European Commission took on board a number of these aims in its Social Action Plan.
We can guarantee social rights for all in Europe, but only if we agree on setting binding targets with a clear timeline. More people need to be in quality employment; not any job, but decent jobs. Minimum wages should not fall below a reasonable threshold and, if we want to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals on our continent too, we must strive to reduce poverty by half in all European countries in 2030. Additionally, no job is worth dying for, so the target for work-related deaths should be set at zero.
We can still save thousands of lives in Europe and we can make history at the Social Summit in Porto when EU governments, the Commission and the Parliament commit to these targets. Europe needs a new social agenda; let’s seize this opportunity.