Only 14 months ago, when we were talking about an economy that works for people, the transition into a more digital and green European economy was seen as a major challenge. The question of how to ensure that this transition is fair and socially acceptable was the one that stood above others; this is what led to the creation of the Just Transition Fund (JTF), designed to support those regions particularly affected by the structural change.
Of course, this was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit us with all its force, triggering the worst economic crisis in Europe since the Second World War. The EU emergency response ‘Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency’ mechanism, (SURE), has - at least for now - averted a major impact on the European labour market by financing short-term work schemes across Member States.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented transformation of the labour market, mainly due to digitisation”
However, it will take years for the European economy to properly recover from this shock. This is why the decision of the Heads of State and Government to set up a €750bn recovery package, in addition to the more than €1tn EU budget for 2021-2027, was absolutely crucial.
These funds provide a unique opportunity to heavily invest in the transformation to a more green and digital economy while at the same time safeguarding jobs and creating new ones. Used properly, Next Generation EU can create a genuine, social and sustainable European economy.
To ensure a fair transformation process, the European Parliament has recently adopted its strategic own initiative report entitled ‘A Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions’. This sets out our Porto agenda for 2030. Along with my colleague Agnes Jongerius, I have been the lead negotiator of this report as co-rapporteur, focusing on implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights.
This report will serve as the European Parliament’s input for the European Social Summit in Porto on May 7-8. Our main goal with this report is to set out clear, ambitious and measurable targets in the area of employment and social affairs to be reached by 2030.
One key element is to invest in lifelong learning. We are experiencing an unprecedented transformation of the labour market, mainly due to digitisation. This means that although some traditional jobs are at risk of being lost, many new jobs are being created.
However, these new jobs often require a completely new set of skills, which is why regular training for adults is imperative nowadays. We are happy to see that in its Action Plan for implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights, the European Commission has set a target of 60 percent of adults participating in training every year.
At the same time, we want to work towards a target of 80 percent of jobs created being middle- or high-paying. They should also be concentrated in sustainable sectors while eliminating the exploitative practice of zero-hour contracts and false self-employment.
Last, a broad coverage of collective bargaining is the key element of Europe’s social market economy and crucial to ensuring adequate and fair wages. As a former trade unionist, this issue is very close to my heart. I am happy that, as a Parliament, we are setting the target of 90 percent of collective bargaining coverage within the coming ten years.
Albert Einstein once observed that, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”. We should therefore use this opportunity to create a truly resilient, digital, sustainable and social European economy.
This article was originally published on 11 May 2021.