Firstly, may I wish you all a very happy Europe Day!

As we are reflecting on the second anniversary of the Social Summit in Porto, which took place in 2021, and on this important day today, I would like to reiterate that the European Pillar of Social Rights must be the compass of the European Union to achieve better working and living conditions in Europe.

In the three areas of the Social Pillar, we have 20 thematic principles:

  • Equal opportunities and access to the labour market (with principles such as gender equality, equal opportunities).
  • Fair working conditions (for example, wages, social dialogue and worker participation, work-life balance).
  • Social protection and inclusion (including social protection, pensions, healthcare, housing, and homeless assistance, and, very important to me and my work, minimum income – we need to fight for a European Directive on Adequate Minimum Income, and Volonteurope fully supports Social Platform in its campaign #OvertheLine).

However, progress on the implementation of the Social Pillar principles has been mixed, which is why it is important that we as civil society take part in the revision of the Social Pillar Action Plan in 2025, after the next European elections, setting out additional actions at EU level with a view to achieve the EU targets for 2030.

It was a great honour for me to be in Porto at the Social Summit in May 2021, in my role as Social Platform President, to address European heads of state and EU institutions on the importance of building a social Europe and using the Social Pillar as a vehicle for achieve more equality and social justice for all in Europe. I speak not only of those who hold an EU passport, but to all who want and often need to make Europe their home, to live in peace and with dignity. And that is why it is so important, of course, that we have this conversation today, because we cannot separate the conversation about democratic values ​​and social justice, especially on Europe Day, without touching on topics like migration and asylum.

In a few weeks I will be back in Porto, when the Portuguese government organises the Social Forum on 27 May 2023, the day before the municipal and regional elections in Spain. Once again I will have the opportunity to address the Forum, in a panel that will talk about the European Social Model as a geopolitical lever.

As in 2021, I will ask again: when we talk about something as important as ensuring that all people in Europe can live their lives with dignity and play an active role in their communities, why is there still such a strong tendency to retreat to exclusively national competences? Unfortunately, this is a worrying trend that continues to occur where we have nationalist political powers, including in my own home country of Poland. Why is there a continuous backlash against LGBTQI rights, against gender equality and the branding of some groups of people as minorities and ideologies? For me, there should be a single, European social model, where everyone is included, respected, treated as human beings and not discriminated against.

Although today is a day of celebrations, we must recognise that we are facing democratic backsliding and attacks on civil society in Europe. In fact, if you look at the most recent CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks civic space in 197 countries and territories around the world, the top five violations of civic liberties in the European Union are: harassment, intimidation, detention of protesters, attacks on journalists and censorship.

As someone so active in European civil society, I must also say that civil society is part of what makes democracy alive and therefore when democracy is under attack, we also become targets, for example as result of Qatargate at the EU level, in different member states, Hungary, Poland, but also in France, Germany, Spain.

Access to rights, privileges and opportunities for discriminated and excluded groups remains a concern, particularly as they are excluded from policy-making processes at the institutional level, but are also subject to everyday social exclusion in practice. These are difficult times for discriminated against and excluded groups, including women, LGTBI people, refugees and asylum seekers, and ethnic and religious minorities, who have been disproportionately affected by the economic, psychosocial, and other consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

LGBTQI+ rights have become increasingly politicised in the EU, including during elections. For example, in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán continued to attack LGBTQI+ people during election rallies, while Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni openly condemned “gender ideology”. In Spain, the far-right party VOX regularly targeted LGTBI people with smear campaigns to “combat gender ideology”

Furthermore, in the last two years, several states have adopted increasingly restrictive legal frameworks for CSOs working for the rights of migrants. This phenomenon is well known as the “criminalisation of solidarity”. Increasingly, all acts related to the migratory journey can be criminalized, including driving a drifting boat; rescue of people at sea, provision of essential services, basic humanitarian aid, information, shelter, or assistance during the asylum procedure; report human rights violations at the borders and help people with return procedures. At the centre of these trends is the criminalisation of migration itself, a denial of human dignity, both in language and narrative and in the legal framework of various EU member states. According to a PICUM study, between January 2022 and December 2022, at least 102 human rights defenders faced criminal or administrative proceedings in the EU for acts of solidarity with migrants.

So, for my last words and to celebrate Europe Day: if we are serious about our democratic values, social justice, a social Europe that leaves no one behind, let us stop focusing on what cannot be done and let us focus on what can be done to improve the life of every person in our societies, in every corner of our European Union. Everything must go hand in hand: economic, environmental, educational, and digital policies must be interrelated and have the social as a common thread, because ultimately, our collective duty is towards the citizens of Europe.

The time has come for the EU and Member States to take bold and decisive action, showing citizens across Europe that they are fully committed to building the more resilient, socially just, and inclusive Europe they want and deserve. And we need our progressive political families across Europe to play a key role in this commitment, especially next year when we are fighting for a European Parliament that will have a strong progressive presence that will safeguard democratic values, justice and social rights in Europe.

Piotr Sadowski
Volonteurope Secretary General