On 25-26 October, the Social Affairs Forum held its autumn meeting in Gothenburg. A record number of 135 participants from over 40 cities, including 20 elected city politicians and representatives of the European Commission and EU-umbrella NGOs, took part in the meeting. They agreed that cities play a key role in delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights and promoting a stronger social Europe.
This meeting culminated in the public announcement of the EUROCITIES statement ‘Social rights for all'. The vice-chair of the Social Affairs Forum and deputy mayor of Malmo, Mr. Andreas Schönström, voiced the strong commitment of cities to transfer the principles of the pillar into actions on the ground, but stressed that cities cannot do it alone and need support and recognition from the EU and member states.
The key messages highlighted during the two days of discussion were:
- The EU should bring the economic and social dimension together. Currently, there is a difference of 15 to 1 in social progress in European regions, and social divergences are further increasing despite economic growth. This is due to the disconnection between economic and social cohesion. Prof. Mikael Stigendael explained in his keynote speech how the current EU growth model sees economic cohesion as most important and relevant to all people while social cohesion is less important and relevant only for vulnerable groups. A structural change is needed to embed the social dimension into the economy and combat the causes of social exclusion. The European Pillar of Social Rights is a good opportunity to link up social and economic policies.
- Cities can lead by example in developing inclusive societies. There is a need for cities to show they can be a real alternative to the politics of fear promoted at national level. Cities can offer the hope for social progress and social sustainability that citizens are seeking. The European Pillar of Social Rights is a golden opportunity for cities to lead the way towards a stronger social Europe and social rights for all.
- Cities can now embark on regional platforms for social infrastructure investment. There is currently a gap in social investment in the EU of about 150 mil EUR per year, mostly at city level. The limited life cycle of EU-funded projects cannot offer a sustainable solution to this gap. The solution is creating regional platforms for long-term investment in social infrastructure, announced by Lieve Fransen who pointed at cities as potential first movers.
- Cities need to work together with the national governments and the EU. The European Commission, represented by Raquel Cortes-Herrera, deputy head of Unit ‘Inclusion and disability’ in DG Employment, welcomed the strong commitment from cities to contribute to the effective implementation of the pillar. She encouraged cities to raise their voice in national debates and work with national governments, such as in shaping the spending priorities of the EU-funded Operational Programmes. On the other hand, city representatives expressed their willingness to work with the EU institutions to ensure that the EU budget post-2020 includes a strong social dimension and can reach the local level. Cities argued they can be an ally of the European Commission to implement EU policies when the national governments fail to respect the promises they made in Brussels.
- Cities should work towards collective empowerment. Besides having a long-term strategy matched with an appropriate budget, cities need to foster solidarity to create social sustainability. Being the closest level of government to citizens, cities should focus on empowering people collectively so as to combat not only systems of inequality, but also the causes of inequality. City authorities have the power to make social inclusion be relevant for all people by including an active inclusion approach in all social policies at local level.