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Commission presents first reflections on building a strong social Europe for just transitions

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The Commission today presents a Communication on building a strong social Europe for just transitions. It sets out how social policy will help deliver on the challenges and opportunities of today, proposing action at EU level for the months to come, and seeking feedback on further action at all levels in the area of employment and social rights. Already today the Commission launches the first phase consultation with social partners – businesses and trade unions – on the issue of fair minimum wages for workers in the EU.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, said: “Europe is going through a momentous shift. As we go through the green and digital transformation, as well as an ageing population, the Commission wants to ensure that people remain centre stage and that the economy works for them. We already have an instrument, the European Pillar of Social Rights. Now we want to ensure that the EU and its Member States, as well as stakeholders, are committed to its implementation.

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said: “The working lives of millions of Europeans will change in the coming years. We need to take action to allow the future workforce to flourish. Europe’s innovative and inclusive social market economy must be about people: providing them with quality jobs that pay an adequate wage. No Member State, no region, no person can be left behind. We must continue to strive for the highest of standards in labour markets, so that all Europeans can live their lives with dignity and ambition.

Europe today is a unique place where prosperity, fairness and a sustainable future are equally important goals. In Europe, we have some of the highest standards of living, best working conditions and most effective social protection in the world.That said, Europeans face a number of changes such as the move to a climate-neutral economy, digitalisation and demographic shifts. These changes will present the workforce with new challenges and opportunities. The European Green Deal – our new growth strategy – must ensure that Europe remains the home of the world’s most advanced welfare systems and is a vibrant hub of innovation and competitive entrepreneurship.

Today’s publications build on the European Pillar of Social Rights, proclaimed by EU institutions and leaders in November 2017. The Commission asks all EU countries, regions and partners to present their views on the way forward as well as their plans to deliver on the Pillar’s objectives. This will feed into the preparation of an Action Plan in 2021 that reflects all contributions, and that will be submitted for endorsement at the highest political level

For its part, the Commission today sets out planned initiatives that will already contribute to the implementation of the EU Pillar. Key actions in 2020 include:

  • Fair minimum wages for workers in the EU
  • A European Gender Equality Strategy and binding pay transparency measures
  • An updated Skills Agenda for Europe
  • An updated Youth Guarantee
  • Platform Work Summit
  • Green paper on Ageing
  • Strategy for persons with disabilities
  • Demography Report
  • European Unemployment Re-insurance Scheme

These actions build on work already done by the EU since the Pillar’s proclamation on 2017. But action at EU level alone is not enough. The key to success lies in the hands of national, regional and local authorities, as well as social partners and relevant stakeholders at all levels. All Europeans should have the same opportunities to thrive – we need to preserve, adapt and improve what our parents and grandparents have built.

Consultation on fair minimum wages

The number of people in employment in the EU is at a record high. But many working people still struggle to make ends meet. President von der Leyen has expressed her wish that every worker in our Union has a fair minimum wage that should allow for a decent living wherever they work.

Today the Commission launches a first phase consultation of social partners – businesses and trade unions – on the issue of a fair minimum wage for workers in the EU. The Commission is in listening mode: we want to know whether social partners believe EU action is needed, and if so, if they wish to negotiate it between themselves.

There will not be a one-size-fits-all minimum wage. Any potential proposal will reflect national traditions, whether collective agreements or legal provisions. Some countries already have excellent systems in place. The Commission wishes to ensure all systems are adequate, have sufficient coverage, include thorough consultation of social partners, and have an appropriate update mechanism in place.

Background

Social justice is the foundation of the European social market economy and at the heart of our Union. It underpins the idea that social fairness and prosperity are the cornerstones for building a resilient society with the highest standards of well-being in the world.

The moment is one of change. Climate change and environmental degradation will require us to adapt our economy, our industry, how we travel and work, what we buy and what we eat. It is expected that artificial intelligence and robotics alone will create almost 60 million new jobs worldwide in the next 5 years, while many jobs will change or even disappear. Europe’s demography is changing; today we live longer and healthier lives, thanks to progress in medicine and public health.

These changes, opportunities and challenges affect all countries and all Europeans. It makes sense to face them together and address change upfront. The European Pillar of Social Rights is our answer to these fundamental ambitions. The Pillar expresses 20 principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in 21st century Europe.

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Green Deal: €1 billion investment to boost the green and digital transition

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The European Commission has decided to launch a €1 billion call for research and innovation projects that respond to the climate crisis and help protect Europe’s unique ecosystems and biodiversity. The Horizon 2020-funded European Green Deal Call, which will open tomorrow for registration, will spur Europe’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis by turning green challenges into innovation opportunities.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “The €1 billion European Green Deal call is the last and biggest call under Horizon 2020. With innovation at its heart, this investment will accelerate a just and sustainable transition to a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. As we do not want anyone left behind in this systemic transformation, we call for specific actions to engage with citizens in novel ways and improve societal relevance and impact.

This Green Deal Call differs in important aspects from previous Horizon 2020 calls. Given the urgency of the challenges it addresses, it aims for clear, discernible results in the short to medium-term, but with a perspective of long-term change. There are fewer, but more targeted, larger and visible actions, with a focus on rapid scalability, dissemination and uptake.

The projects funded under this call are expected to deliver results with tangible benefits in ten areas:

Eight thematic areas reflecting the key work streams of the European Green Deal:

  1. Increasing climate ambition
  2. Clean, affordable and secure energy
  3. Industry for a clean and circular economy
  4. Energy and resource efficient buildings
  5. Sustainable and smart mobility
  6. Farm to fork
  7. Biodiversity and ecosystems
  8. Zero-pollution, toxic-free environments

And two horizontal areasstrengthening knowledge and empowering citizens, which offer a longer-term perspective in achieving the transformations set out in the European Green Deal.

The €1 billion investment will continue building Europe’s knowledge systems and infrastructures. The call includes opportunities for international cooperation in addressing the needs of less-developed nations, particularly in Africa, in the context of the Paris Agreement as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The deadline for submissions is 26 January 2021, with selected projects expected to start in autumn 2021.

A Horizon 2020 Green Deal Call Info Day & Brokerage event will take place as part of the virtual European Research & Innovation Days that will take place from 22-24 September 2020.

Background

The European Green Deal is the European Commission’s blueprint and roadmap to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050, with a sustainable economy that leaves no one behind. 

To reach this 2050 goal, action will be required by all sectors of our economy, including:

  • investing in environmentally-friendly technologies;
  • supporting industry to innovate;
  • rolling out cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport;
  • decarbonising the energy sector;
  • ensuring buildings are more energy efficient;
  • working with international partners to improve global environmental standards.

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Why social fairness and solidarity are more important than ever

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EU Commission’s services have published the 2020 edition of the Employment and Social Developments in Europe (ESDE) review dedicated to the theme of social fairness and solidarity. The review provides evidence-based analysis on how to achieve greater fairness across the EU in the face of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic as well as structural changes due to demographic ageing, and the green and digital transitions.

Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit said: “The ESDE report shows that strengthening social fairness is key to overcoming the crisis. This requires putting people front and centre. To ensure resilience, solidarity and cohesion, the EU’s response has to prioritise employment, reduce inequalities and ensure equal opportunities. The effective implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights will serve as our guide.”

The review notes that the COVID-19 pandemic is having profound health, economic, employment and social effects, threatening much of the progress that the EU had achieved previously. All Member States are experiencing a greater economic shock than in 2008-2009. Economic output has contracted sharply and unemployment is on the rise. The most vulnerable persons, including Europe’s youth, are hit particularly hard.

Against this background, the ESDE report points to the following findings:

Adequate minimum wages and minimum income can have a beneficial effect on the social mobility of Europeans.

Strengthening social fairness, including through investments in people, pays off. Closing gender-related gaps brings particularly high returns, while extending working lives, and raising educational attainment also have positive effects.

Structural change, such as the green transition, has to be accompanied by social measures to be successful. Notably, this transition requires social investment in the form of re-skilling programmes and/or unemployment benefits. According to ESDE, this social investment could amount to €20 billion or more until 2030.

Short-time work schemes are protecting jobs effectively. The EU is helping Member States to provide such support through solidarity mechanisms like the instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE).

Social dialogue and collective bargaining influence fairness and its perception at the workplace by promoting more equitable wages, better working conditions and more inclusive labour markets.

More generally, to repair the damage done by COVID-19 and prepare an economy and society for a future of faster structural changes, the EU and Member States need to embrace fully the opportunities offered by the transition to a greener, digitalised economy and build inclusiveness, solidarity and resilience into the design of all policies. Ensuring a broad-based recovery is a key policy objective of our policy action, which will help strengthen social resilience in the longer run.

Background

The annual Employment and Social Developments in Europe review prepared by the Directorate-General of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, provides up-to-date economic analysis of employment and social trends in Europe and discusses related policy options. It is the European Commission’s analytical flagship report in the area of employment and social affairs, mandated by Articles 151, 159 and 161 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

There are many examples in which the Commission focuses on addressing the challenges raised in the yearly ESDE reports. In April 2020, the Commission proposed the SURE instrument, which will provide €100 billion in financial support to help protect jobs and workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In May 2020, the Commission put forward a powerful, modern and revamped long-term EU budget boosted by NextGenerationEU, an emergency temporary recovery instrument, to help repair the economic and social damage brought by the coronavirus pandemic, kickstart the recovery and prepare for a better future for the next generation. The Recovery and Resilience Facility will be one of EU’s main recovery tools, providing an unprecedented €672.5 billion of loans and grants in frontloaded financial support for the crucial first years of the recovery. The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) will continue to invest in people, while an improved European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) will be able to intervene even more effectively to support workers who have lost their jobs. The European Pillar of Social Rights and its upcoming Action Plan, as well as initiatives and tools such as the European Skills Agenda, the Youth Employment Support initiative or the Digital Europe Programme will all contribute to address challenges identified in the ESDE.

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EU-China Leaders’ Meeting: Upholding EU values and interests

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The European Union and China held a Leaders’ Meeting via videoconference on 14 September 2020. An EU-China Leaders’ meeting with the participation of leaders of all EU member states was initially scheduled to take place on this date. President of the European Council, Charles Michel, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Federal Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, for the Council Presidency, conducted the videoconference with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The meeting provided an opportunity to follow up on discussions at the 22nd EU-China Summit (22 June). The meeting was important to maintain the momentum of EU-China high-level exchanges in order to achieve concrete results in line with EU interests and values.

The comprehensive agenda of the Leaders’ meeting covered trade and investment, climate change and biodiversity, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as international affairs and other issues.

With regard to the negotiations for an ambitious EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI), while both sides registered progress on the rules regulating the behaviour of State-owned-enterprises, on forced technology transfer and on transparency of subsidies, the EU emphasised that more work was urgently needed on the issues of rebalancing market access and on sustainable development. The EU called on China to step up its ambition on these issues. The two sides reaffirmed their objective of closing the remaining gaps before the end of the year. The EU side emphasised that high-level political engagement would be required within the Chinese system to achieve a meaningful agreement.

On other trade and economic issues, the EU reiterated its call on China to engage in future negotiations on industrial subsidies in the WTO. The EU stressed that, in line with China’s stated commitment to open up and ensure that EU producers are fairly treated on the Chinese market, more needed to be done to improve market access in the agri-food trade, financial services and the digital sector. The EU also again made clear its concerns on overcapacity, both in traditional sectors such as steel and aluminium as well as in high tech.

The two sides welcomed the signature of the EU-China Agreement on Geographical Indications which will improve access to the Chinese market especially for high-quality European agricultural products.

The EU underlined the need for reciprocity and a level playing field in the area of science and technology, underpinned by high ethical and integrity standards. Leaders welcomed and agreed to continue the high level digital dialogue. They looked forward to concrete progress on ICT standards, product safety and research and innovation.

On climate change and biodiversity, the EU encouraged China to strengthen its climate commitments in terms of peaking carbon dioxide emissions and setting the goal of climate neutrality domestically. The EU also stressed the importance of a moratorium in China of building coal-fired power plants and financing their construction abroad, at least as part of a global initiative. The EU also encouraged China to launch its national emission trading system soon. The two sides agreed to establish a High-Level Environment and Climate Dialogue to pursue ambitious joint commitments on these issues.

The EU noted that joint commitments by both sides on biodiversity could be a game-changer at global level and China has a key role to play as host of the Conference of the Parties next year. An ambitious global agreement would be a major achievement.

On the COVID-19 response, the EU emphasised the shared responsibility to participate in global efforts to stop the spread of the virus, boost research on treatments and vaccines, and strengthen the role of the World Health Organisation, including through the full implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution of May 2020. The EU also underlined that the recovery measures should support the transition to a greener and more sustainable economy. China’s full engagement in G20 efforts to support low-income countries and effectively implement the G20 – Paris Club Debt Service Suspension Initiative will also be essential.

With regard to Hong Kong, EU Leaders voiced their grave concerns about the erosion of the fundamental rights and freedoms following the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong on 30 June, which is contrary to China’s international commitments. They also reiterated the EU’s concerns at the postponement of the Legislative Council election and the disqualification of candidates.

The EU reiterated its serious concerns about the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, the situation of human rights defenders, as well as the limitations to freedom of expression and access to information. The two sides agreed that the Human Rights Dialogue will take place as a physical meeting in China later this year.

On regional and international issues, the EU referred to the escalating tensions in the South China Sea, urging for self-restraint and a peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. Leaders welcomed the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha. They also confirmed their commitment to upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal).

The EU also expressed readiness to continue to discuss the Strategic Agenda for Cooperation 2025, which can only be concluded once significant progress has been made in the negotiations on the Comprehensive Investment Agreement.

An EU-China Leaders’ Meeting with the participation of the Heads of State and Government of the EU member states and President Xi is foreseen to be held in 2021.

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