European Union leaders will proclaim a set of 20 “social rights” on Friday in a bid to make the EU more appealing to voters and counter eurosceptic sentiment across the bloc. The set of social rights, supported by all EU governments and institutions, spells out what the EU believes are the foundations of fair and well-functioning modern labour markets and welfare systems.
It encompasses principles ranging from equal access to jobs, to fair working conditions and wages and social protection and unemployment benefits and training.
“We had a financial crisis, we have a migration crisis, we have too high levels of unemployment in some countries, we have a deterioration of working conditions in some sectors,” said a senior EU official involved in the preparation of the Gothenburg summit.
“All this has made some people lose confidence in their governments or in the European Union, has led to dissatisfaction and concern, as we have seen in the results of some elections. There is certainly a need to respond.”
Britain’s decision last year to leave the EU made the bloc reflect on the way forward, including putting more emphasis on social policies, a second official said. “This summit has a lot to do with the identity of the European Union as it is emerging … after the wake-up call of Brexit,” he said. “The leaders’ agenda is … to bring EU project closer to the citizens – not to have more Europe, but to have a better Europe.”
The set of rights, to be officially proclaimed as the European Pillar of Social Rights on Friday, says everybody has the right to quality education throughout their lives and that men and women must have equal opportunities in all areas and be paid the same for work of equal value.
The unemployed have the right to “personalised, continuous and consistent support”, while workers have the right “to fair wages that provide for a decent standard of living”.
The leaders will also say that “adequate minimum wages shall be ensured in a way that provides for the satisfaction of the needs of the worker and his/her family in the light of national and social conditions”.
Officials said that while the rights would not be directly enforceable by the EU, they established a common EU standard which the European Commission will refer to when issuing its annual recommendations for policy changes to each country.
European trade unions and business associations backed the set of European social rights, saying both economic and social cohesion in Europe should be improved.
“A particular effort is needed to improve the functioning of our labour markets in particular to give our youth prospects of a bright future,” the business and trade union organisations said in a joint statement. “We want Europe to continue to have the most highly developed social systems in the world.”