This month, Volonteurope joined Social Platform and its members to develop an open letter to the College of Commissioners, arguing that Europe’s economic and political future depends on its social policy. With Europe’s ‘social emergency’ and refugee crisis as a backdrop, the Commission’s second orientation debate on social policy (which was due to take place on 8 September but will now be debated on 16 September) is an opportunity to show the EU’s ambition and leadership. Taking into account the alarmingly high incidence of poverty, social exclusion and inequality across the continent, the claim that Europe is in economic recovery is a myth for many people. Jobs alone are not enough, especially given the rise of in-work poverty. The Commission wants to avoid a race to the bottom on social issues. However, upward social convergence requires an ambitious social agenda. Far from being a cost, it will help drive a healthy economy.

In many EU Member States, austerity-driven policies have led to ad hoc discriminatory measures and decreasing social standards. The EU is far from powerless, as it has at its disposal legislative and financial instruments, as well as economic coordination such as the European Semester and the EU2020 Strategy.  Social policy must be recognised as an investment in human capital rather than a cost. Investment across the life-cycle has measurable benefits – both socially and economically.

In the open letter, Volonteurope welcomes the fact that the Commission is working on strengthening existing legislative and non-legislative instruments to deliver on its commitment to “a Triple A social rating for Europe”. It also calls on the Commission to work towards a package of universal social standards, which would include:

  • Adequate minimum income schemes of at least 60% of national median income to protect people against poverty. Member states should be supported in the progressive realisation of such schemes, including through an EU framework directive.
  • Adequate minimum wage in all member states, set higher than adequate minimum income and with a minimum threshold of at least 60% of national median wage.
  • Common standards for unemployment benefits set at a level above adequate minimum income. Wide coverage must be ensured to avoid the exclusion of people who have not yet worked or have only worked for a limited period.
  • Non-discriminatory access to quality and affordable social, health, inclusive education and lifelong learning services, recognising that investment in such services also have a high potential for job creation. On-going efforts to unlock the Equal Treatment Directive, adopt the Accessibility Act and develop a Roadmap to address the challenges of work-life balance are important in this regard.

Volonteurope will be carefully monitoring the Commission’s progress on this front.