Verschenen in The Parliament Magazine
The Portuguese Council presidency has made social progress one of its top priorities and the upcoming summit in Porto will reflect citizens’ desire for a more social Europa, explains Agnes Jongerius.
A new wind is blowing in Europe. It was not a coincidence the Gothenburg Social Summit took place in 2017, right after the detrimental Brexit-referendum result in the United Kingdom. Europe’s leaders had to learn the lessons the hard way, what it means if you ignore people who try to make ends meet for too long. The European Pillar of Social Rights was the kick-start to set this straight. Now we have the opportunity to write history in Porto, when we turn these rights into tangible social progress for all by 2030.
Where the European recipe for recovery in the previous crisis was to lower minimum wages, to lower the coverage of sectoral collective bargaining and to cut welfare states, now the tide is turning. Prime Minister Antonio Costa was the first to present an alternative approach, by increasing the minimum wage in Portugal in the midst of the previous crisis. Now the Portuguese presidency is again taking the initiative by making social progress a top priority in Europe.
We cannot go back to business as usual to come out of the current crisis. In December, the European Parliament adopted its position for the upcoming Porto Social Summit. With a solid majority the report on a Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions, by co-rapporteur Dennis Radtke and me, was adopted. This reflects the great appetite for a more social Europe: nine out of ten citizens support this.
Inequality is on the rise within and between European countries. Europe’s economy is growing, but wages of workers are falling behind. Thousands of people are living in the streets, homelessness is increasing. The COVID pandemic has only highlighted and amplified these problems further. This is not how we envisage Europe’s future. We need to step up to fight this, locally, nationally and from the European level.
Just like in the case of climate action, we need a new horizon for social progress. Therefore, in the position of the European Parliament, we agreed on a number of concrete social objectives, to be reached by 2030. We should eliminate in-work poverty, increase the level of collective bargaining coverage to 90%, establish minimum income schemes to cover everyone in need, the Child Guarantee to cover all children in need, eliminate the gender pay gap and ensure access to decent housing for all. I am very glad the European Commission took on board a couple of these aims in its Social Action Plan, last March.
We can guarantee social rights for all in Europe, but only if we agree upon setting binding targets with a clear timeline. More people need to be in quality employment. Not any job, but decent jobs. Minimum wages should not fall below a threshold of decency. We must strive reduce poverty by half in all European countries in 2030, if we want to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals on our continent too. Additionally, no job is worth dying for, so the target should be put at zero work-related deaths. We can still safe thousands of lives in Europe.
We can write history at the Social Summit in Porto. When the government leaders, the European Commission and the European Parliament commit to these targets on the final day of the Summit. Europe needs a new social agenda, let’s seize this opportunity.