Aurel Laurenţiu PLOSCEANU is the President of the Employment, Social Affairs, and Citizenship section of the European Economic and Social Committee. For the 2021 Europe Day he answered our questions.
As we celebrate Europe day, what would you list as Europe’s biggest social achievements?
The attention that the EU has given to social policy is certainly not new. Also in the EESC’s Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, of which I am currently president, we have always worked on policies relating to social issues. Nonetheless, I would like to stress the most recent achievements which I believe are important, particularly in the context of the current crisis and, hopefully, recovery. The European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) has been a clear recognition on the part of the previous Commission of the need for a more social Europe, and I really welcome the renewed attention to the topic by the present Commission. I appreciate the delivery of a new Action Plan for the implementation of the EPSR, with the elaboration of headline targets as well as of numerous activities to achieve these targets. I would like to focus, in this regard, on the proposal to introduce a Child Guarantee, which invites Member States to address the needs of children in situations of social exclusion by investing in education, health and wellbeing. Also, I think the proposal to reinforce the Youth Guarantee is needed and timely, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, when younger generations are among those facing the most difficult social consequences. I believe the numerous proposals to significantly promote equality and non‑discrimination in the EU are also an important achievement. In this respect, the actions provided for by the Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027 are really appropriate for addressing these challenges. Within this framework, the EESC is actively promoting action, through numerous opinions, events and exchanges with social partners and civil society organisations.
As President of the SOC section within the EESC, you are on the front line to make sure Europe delivers on its social and economic objectives. In this context, what are your ambitions for the European Pillar of Social Rights? What role would you like the EESC to play in these discussions?
As I said before, the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and the important measures proposed are welcome and they could not be more timely. However, I would like to advocate for equal importance and weight to be given to all 20 principles of the Social Pillar, as currently the headline targets focus on only three areas: employment, education and skills, as well as poverty reduction. I would also expect to go well beyond the target of reducing the number of people in poverty by 15 million, since this is less ambitious than the objective of the UN Agenda 2030, which the EU has endorsed. Moreover, I expect the EPSR to focus closely on the devastating impact of the pandemic and the significant effects that it has had on employment, affecting young people, low-skilled, low-paid temporary and migrant workers, and women, who have generally been harder hit than men.
The EESC is playing a central role in these discussions. For instance, we had the pleasure of an exchange with Commissioner Nicolas Schmit during our April plenary session, when we confirmed our commitment to reaching a stronger social Europe, but also voiced our concerns in relation to the process for achieving this objective. Furthermore, besides the opinions and events that I have mentioned, we will be participating with a delegation in the upcoming Porto Social Summit, where we will convey our expectations for a strong commitment from all stakeholders to working in partnership for a sustainable future, giving equal weight to the economic, social and environmental dimensions. We will call for a Porto declaration that will engage all institutional, economic and social actors in implementing the Action Plan, building on civil and social dialogue. We will point out that people have experienced COVID-19 as a human-centred pandemic and, as Europe slowly moves towards socioeconomic reconstruction and implements the EPSR, people and communities must remain clearly at the centre. The ambition is really to ensure that “no one is left behind”.
To which extent do you believe the fight against undeclared employment, in particular in the PHS sector, needs to be prioritised by European governments, especially as we see the disastrous impact the COVID-19 had on these already vulnerable workers?
The PHS sector is a key sector for our societies. This has been particularly highlighted by the current pandemic, when these services have been on the front line in dealing not only with the health impact, but also with the social consequences related to the spread of the virus. The role of women and of migrants in this sector, as we all know, is fundamental, and I believe that substantial measures should be taken in order to ensure that their work is properly recognised and protected. In this regard, I would point to the work of the SOC section on an opinion regarding the Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers (SOC/529). I believe this directive will help Member States to take proper measures in the PHS sector.
In the context of a job market which is changing considerably due to the transition towards a greener and more digital economy and society, it is paramount to ensure that all necessary measures to protect workers and business are taken, at both EU and Member State level. Only this would ensure a fair and just transition. All the more so, in the context of sectors such as the PHS, whose value is often underestimated.
The European Commission is starting to think about the future of welfare systems in Europe. What are your thoughts about a future-looking solution in this context as we reel from the COVID-19 crisis?
Concerning the future of national welfare systems, I believe the EU is currently developing numerous activities, which are in line with a trend where sustainability is steadily turning into a concept which encompasses not only the green and digital transitions but one which has an important connection with social issues. The need for a multidimensional European Pillar of Social Rights, which is mainstreamed into all EU recovery policies, is an aspect which we have repeatedly emphasised. The EESC had adopted an opinion on social sustainability (SOC/568) before the pandemic, in which we placed emphasis on the European social model, which was described as a milestone for Europe in guaranteeing high social protection and citizenship rights for all. With the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights through the Action Plan, we are progressively reaffirming the role and the value of this European social model, where all stakeholders have to commit to promoting inclusive growth and a sustainable recovery.