On 22 November, the European Commission kicked off the European Semester for 2018 by releasing the Annual Growth Survey, Joint Employment Report and the new Employment Guidelines. This comes three days after the joint proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights at the EU Social Summit in Gothenburg.
The good news is that the EU economy seems to have recovered from the crisis. However, the recovery remains uneven between and within member states. More efforts are needed for economic and social convergence. Having the European Pillar of Social Rights embedded in the EU monitoring of national reforms is a positive step in this direction.
Rebalanced focus on social policy reforms among EU’s priorities for 2018
The Annual Growth Survey identifies the economic and social priorities for the year ahead. The focus is on reforms that:
- boost investment in human capital
- invest in affordable, accessible and quality services (childcare, out-of-school care, housing (including social housing), health services and long-term care)
- improve functioning of the labour markets and welfare systems
- promote equal opportunities and access to the labour market (active labour market policies, skills development (including basic skills), quality education and training)
- promote fair working conditions (inclusive labour markets, targeted labour tax reductions, work-life balance, growth in real wages)
- adequate and sustainable social protection systems (targeted income support, equal access to quality services)
- efficient and fair tax and benefits systems (e.g. shift tax away from labour)
The Commission calls attention to the need for better complementarity between labour market and social integration support (childcare, access to healthcare and housing) as a way to reduce barriers to employment for all vulnerable groups.
Joint Employment Report: alarming levels of poverty and income inequality despite employment gains
Employment gains are noticeable, but remain unevenly distributed among different population groups. Employment rates of low-skilled workers, young people, migrants, people with a disability, women and older workers, are recovering more slowly. The proportion of Europeans at risk of poverty or social exclusion remains alarmingly high at 23.5% of the total population in 2016, which is far off-track in reaching the Europe 2020 poverty and social exclusion target. Income inequality also remains high with the richest 20% of the population having a disposable income around five times higher than that of the poorest 20% in 2016.
For the first time, the Joint Employment Report includes the new social scoreboard with its 14 headline indicators to assess the performance of member states on the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Impact of social transfers on poverty reduction is the area where the EU registers worst progress and the only indicator recording deterioration since 2016.
Employment Guidelines amended to take account of the European Pillar of Social Rights
The Commission proposed revised guidelines for member states' employment policies in line with the principles of the Pillar. For example, references to precarious working conditions, the abuse of atypical contracts, access to adequate social housing assistance and better work-life balance have been added in the revised guidelines.
EUROCITIES welcomes the incorporation of the European Pillar of Social Rights in the European Semester as a step towards promoting social rights for all. However, despite acknowledging that economic and social disparities exist between as well as within member states and that the impact of the labour market changes is often hardest felt locally, the Commission continues to monitor progress based on national averages. In our recent statement ‘Social Rights for All’, we explain that aggregate figures at macro-level based on national averages are not sufficient to reveal complex social problems. EUROCITIES calls for adding micro-level data from local level to the social scoreboard indicators.