The Portuguese Presidency of the European Union, which takes place this semester, defined the strengthening of Social Europe as a priority. This political option reveals a precise vision about the future of the European project. It will have a significant influence on how this future is built.
At the end of the first week of May, the Social Summit will represent a decisive step on this path in Porto. A commitment is being sought from the different Member States to this endeavor, ensuring the involvement of European institutions, regional and local authorities, and social partners. With the mobilizing leadership of the Portuguese Government, it is intended to reach a point of no return for the affirmation of Social Europe.
This journey started in 2017 in Gothenburg when the Member States and the European institutions proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights. In a continent still shaken by the response given to the financial and budgetary crisis of the years 2008/2011, the European Union (EU) proposed to abandon the austerity primer that marked its practice in the previous decade.
The European project, generated in the post-war period to help build a collective future of peace, democracy and economic prosperity, will not live unless it can achieve social progress. In fact, the objective of social progress, coupled with the promotion of full employment, is enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon. According to recent Eurobarometer data, the overwhelming majority of Europeans want a more significant Union intervention in promoting social cohesion and equal opportunities.
We live in contradictions that need to be overcome. The European social model, of which we are so proud, generates a level of well-being that is unparalleled in any other space on the planet. But at the same time, more than 90 million Europeans are at risk of poverty. The same is true for one in five children, with devastating consequences for their life prospects. We live in a severe demographic crisis, but we allow more than 10% of young people to be unemployed and outside the education and training system. We proclaim gender equality, but we live with an unjustifiable salary inequality between men and women. In Europe, the number of homeless people has increased in the past decade, the most explosive facet of a widespread crisis in access to housing.
The reorientation of priorities that the Portuguese Presidency intends to consolidate aims to respond to these and other problems. Finally, we have an Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, presented by the European Commission in March. It sets out ambitious objectives, some of which are quantified: to guarantee full employment, that is, 78% of Europeans between the ages of 20 and 64 have a job; ensure that 60% of adults are involved in training each year; lift at least 15 million people out of poverty by 2030.
To implement this Action Plan, the Commission has taken initiatives that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Among others, three proposals for new European directives (on adequate minimum wages in the EU, on the rights of workers on digital platforms and on wage transparency) or the European Child Guarantee.
With the Porto Social Summit, Portugal will be indelibly associated with the most generous of the European project’s goals: ensuring social progress for the benefit of all people.
*Originally edited in Público newspaper on April, 26th.