In a special Eurobarometer survey carried out at the end of last year, 88% of European citizens considered Social Europe to be important for their lives. The defense of the European social model is therefore at the center of the concerns of 9 out of 10 Europeans. Not surprising. The social market economy sustained Europe’s recovery from the post-war rubble on a path of shared prosperity, unparalleled on a global scale. It proved against models of totalitarian statism and resisted the neoliberal deconstruction offensive that began in the 1980s. What has historically been shown to be a factor of positive differentiation must not only be protected, but deepened.

It was in this spirit that, at the initiative of Sweden, we met in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017 to proclaim the 20 principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which constituted the guiding framework for building a strong social Europe, fair, inclusive and full of opportunities. It was already clear that it was necessary to proceed and move from principles to action. I was one of those who then affirmed the need for the European Commission to move forward with an Action Plan that defined and scheduled initiatives to make the principles realities in the lives of Europeans.

If the Action Plan was necessary in 2017, the brutal economic and social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic made it urgent. That is why we identified the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan as a central priority for the Portuguese Presidency, alongside the control of the pandemic and together with the economic and social recovery, and thus prepared our presidency in close collaboration with the Commission. We are pleased that, as planned, the European Commission presented on 4 March its Communication on the Action Plan, in time for, at the Social Summit in Porto on 7 and 8 May, the social partners and representatives civil society to sign a commitment to support the implementation of the Plan and the 27 Member States to give a strong endorsement to its implementation.

The current crisis has made dramatically evident the need to guarantee universal access to quality health care, to protect employment and support the unemployed, and to redouble efforts to combat poverty. Just as it also made clear the costs of job insecurity, gender inequality in employment, the need to regulate new forms of work, such as teleworking or work done through digital platforms. Indeed, the pandemic has not been the same for everyone. Today, surely, everyone understands better the imperiousness of a new social contract for the 21st century and the meaning of expressions such as decent work and social inclusion.

But if the pandemic crisis places the Pillar of Social Rights at the center of Europeans’ concern, economic recovery cannot do without its fulfillment.

The engine of recovery is the dual climate and digital transition. From the European leadership in these two civilizational challenges depends on being able to control global warming and our survival in the global economy. For this reason, we cannot hesitate to assume them with all determination, with the certainty that it depends on the public policies that we adopt to ensure a new impulse of shared prosperity, which generates more and better jobs or the worsening of inequalities and exclusion. This understandable fear is the fear that populism feeds on. The fear of unemployment that automation or the closure of coal-fired power plants entails, unless they are accompanied by a very strong investment in digital qualifications, in professional requalification, and in social protection that guarantees to everyone that no one is left behind. The fear of SMEs that they will not be able to keep up with the investment effort required to decarbonize and harness the full potential of digital, if they are not effectively supported. Fear is fought with action, transforming threats into opportunities to strengthen the competitiveness of companies and the quality of decent work with rights.

Hence the enormous importance of ensuring investment in education, training and requalification throughout life, of expanding equal opportunities, of bringing Labor Law to new forms of work, of guaranteeing social protection and the right to inclusion for all.

The execution of the Action Plan, together with the financing provided for in the Recovery Plans and the Multiannual Financial Framework, is therefore essential to create a solid base of confidence to face and overcome the challenges of climate and digital transitions. Only then will we achieve the just, green and digital recovery that is the motto of our Presidency.

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