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Explainer: the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan

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What is the European Pillar of Social Rights?

The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights in 2017. It consists of twenty principles that have guided us ever since towards a strong Social Europe. They express principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems.

The Pillar is structured around three chapters:

  1. Equal opportunities and access to the labour market;
  2. Fair working conditions;
  3. Social protection and inclusion.

Why do we need an Action Plan to implement the Pillar?

We need to update our ‘social rulebook’ both in light of long-term transformations of our labour markets and economies shaped by climate change, digitalisation, globalisation and demographic trends, as well as the more immediate and drastic changes the pandemic has brought to our jobs, education, economy, welfare systems and social life. The Pillar principles set the framework for the path ahead.

Many people are worried about their jobs and their future. This is why we need to put a strong focus on quality jobs and skills and give adequate protection to those in need to pave the way for a fair, inclusive and resilient recovery and prepare for a just transition to greener and more digital economies. To do so, the Action Plan proposes concrete actions to accelerate the implementation of the principles and further turn Europe’s social rights and principles into a reality. It also proposes employment, skills and social protection headline targets to be achieved by 2030. With the financial support of the Multi-Annual Financial Framework 2021-2027 and NextGenerationEU, and the monitoring under the European Semester, this will guide our joint efforts towards a strong Social Europe and reaching a sustainable impact.

With this Action Plan, we are also responding to calls from the European Parliament and Member States as well as social partners, other stakeholders and most importantly EU citizens. A special Eurobarometer survey has been conducted asking citizens for their views on social issues. In their ‘European Council Strategic Agenda 2019-2024′, Member States have noted that the European Pillar of Social Rights should be implemented at EU and Member State level, with due regard for respective competences. The European Parliament in its ‘Resolution on a Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions’ has also underlined the importance of pursuing the implementation of the Pillar’s rights and principles.

The Action Plan builds on a broad public consultation conducted between January and November 2020, which resulted in more than 1000 written contributions from Member States, EU institutions and bodies, regions, cities, social partners, civil society organisations, international organisations, think tanks and citizens. In addition, the Commission has held a series of dedicated webinars with over 1500 individual stakeholders across Europe.

Why does the Action Plan set EU level targets?

The Commission proposes three headline targets for the EU, to be reached by 2030, on employment, skills, and social protection, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  1. At least 78% of people aged 20 to 64 should be in employment.
  2. At least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year.
  3. The number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion should be reduced by at least 15 million.

The headline targets are important to set a common ambition for a strong Social Europe. They will allow the Commission to monitor progress in turning the principles of the Pillar into action. Together with the EU’s political goals for the green and digital transitions, social targets will help to focus policy efforts on reaching results and offer an incentive for reforms and targeted investments in the Member States. The Commission invites the European Council to endorse these three targets and calls on Member States to define their own national targets to contribute to this collective effort.

How will the Commission monitor the implementation of the Pillar?

The Commission will monitor progress through the European Semester, the EU’s framework for coordinating social and economic policies across the European Union.

The Commission proposes to revise the Social Scoreboard, which feeds into the European Semester process, to better reflect the 20 principles of the Pillar, making it easier to monitor the progress of policy priorities and actions set out in the Action Plan. The Scoreboard will include new headline indicators on adult learning, child poverty, disability employment gap, and housing cost overburden.

The Commission will use the new EU 2030 employment, skills and social protection targets as part of its toolbox to monitor Member States’ progress towards the implementation of the rights and principles of the Pillar.

What remains to be done to implement the Pillar?

Since the start of its mandate, this Commission has already taken concrete initiatives for a strong Social Europe. Several principles of the Pillar require further legislative or non-legislative initiatives to become effective. The additional initiatives outlined in today’s Action Plan will further improve the social rights in the EU. The Commission will work to update, complement, and enforce existing EU law, wherever necessary.

Translating all of the Pillar principles into reality is a joint responsibility. It greatly depends on the commitment and action of Member States. They hold the main responsibility for employment and social policies and consequently also most of the tools to implement the Pillar. The Commission therefore calls on Member States, including regional and local authorities, social partners, civil society and other relevant actors, to join their forces. The Commission encourages Member States to organise a coordination mechanism to ensure engagement of all relevant stakeholders at national level in implementing the Pillar. Together they can advance the implementation of the Pillar within their respective spheres of competence.

What is the EU doing to safeguard jobs and social rights in the recovery from the current crisis?

The coronavirus pandemic tragically cost the lives of many people and had a drastic social and economic impact on our lives. For many people, their work routine has changed, some have lost their jobs or risk doing so.

The Commission has been mobilising all means at its disposal to help support Member States to keep people in their jobs. The Commission’s SURE scheme supports Member States by providing financial assistance of up to €100 billion in EU loans. The overall financial support proposed under SURE by the Commission is €90.6 billion and covers 19 Member States. The Commission’s package on youth employment support, skills and vocational education and training presented in July 2020 is specifically designed to help the next generation of Europeans to get on the jobs ladder.

The EU’s long-term budget, coupled with NextGenerationEU, the temporary instrument designed to boost Europe’s recovery, will be the largest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget. A total of €1.8 trillion (in 2018 prices) will be available both for showing solidarity to overcome the crisis of today, and also for building the next generation EU.

Together with changes to the EU’s social and employment funding programmes like the European Social Fund (ESF+) and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), the package will help tackle the main social and employment challenges that lie ahead, such as rising youth unemployment, the need to steer basic food and material aid to those most in need, as well as addressing child poverty. REACT-EU will bring €47.5 billion in fresh money from 2020-2022. The ESF and FEAD can top up its funding from this new resource to fund measures to counter the negative impact of the coronavirus on the labour market.

The Recovery and Resilience Facility with a total of €672.5 billion will provide large-scale financial support for a lasting and inclusive recovery. It will fund coherent packages of reforms and investments that respond to the challenges identified in the relevant country specific recommendations of the European Semester, many of which refer to labour, skills and social policies. It will therefore actively contribute to the implementation of the Pillar. The Commission Recommendation on Effective Active Support to Employment following the COVID-19 crisis (EASE) provides further guidance on how to use available funding opportunities, including from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, to support the recovery in labour markets.

The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, together with its three EU 2030 headline targets on employment, skills, and social protection, will offer an additional incentive for Member States to invest in a strong Social Europe.

What has the Commission done so far to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights?

In her Political Guidelines, President von der Leyen has committed to putting forward an Action Plan to fully implement the European Pillar of Social Rights and reconcile the social and the market in a changing economy.

Since the start of its mandate at the end of 2019, this Commission has contributed to the implementation of the Social Pillar principles with the following initiatives, among others:

A full list of key Commission actions is available in Annex 1 of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.

What specific proposals will the Commission present in the future?

This week the European Commission presents three concrete deliverables of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan:

  • A Commission Recommendation on Effective Active Support to Employment following the COVID-19 crisis will promote job creation and job-to-job transitions towards expanding sectors to boost the economic recovery.
  • A new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 aims at enforcing their right to take part in all areas of life, just like everyone else.
  • A proposal for a Directive on Pay Transparency will improve workers’ access to information on pay, raising awareness of discrimination and making it easier to enforce the right to equal pay.

Further key Commission initiatives for a strong Social Europe in 2021 will include, among others:

  • a proposal for the European Child Guarantee;
  • a new strategic framework for Occupational Safety and Health;
  • launching a platform of collaboration against homelessness;
  • a Communication on Decent Work Worldwide;
  • a legislative initiative to improve the working conditions for people working through digital labour platforms; and
  • an Action Plan for the Social Economy.

Further initiatives will be proposed until the end of the Commission mandate, such as a proposal for a Council Recommendation on minimum income in 2022 to effectively support and complement the policies of Member States, a review of the Quality Framework for Traineeships or an initiative on long-term care.

A full list of key Commission actions is available in Annex 1 of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.

What are the next steps?

The Action Plan presents the Commission’s contribution to the Porto Social Summit, organised by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, in May 2021. The Summit will focus on strengthening Europe’s social dimension, and it will be an occasion to renew, at the highest political level, the commitment to implement the Social Pillar.

The Commission invites the European Council to endorse the new social and employment targets and calls on Member States to define their own national targets, as a contribution to this common endeavour.

Engagement of national, regional and local authorities, social partners and civil society is essential to ensure an effective implementation of the Pillar. The Commission therefore encourages coordination mechanisms at national level to ensure all relevant actors engage to implement the Pillar’s social rights and principles.

EU Politics

EU Cohesion policy: Commission announces the winners of the REGIOSTARS Awards 2021

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Today, the European Commission has announced the winners of the 2021 edition of the REGIOSTARS Awards that reward the best Cohesion policy projects in the whole EU. This year’s REGIOSTARS competition received a record 214 applications and 14,156 people voted in the public choice’s category.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, commented: “My warm congratulations to the 10 winners of the EU Cohesion policy projects of 2021. They are role models for everyone who wishes to better the life of people with the use of EU funds. I hope they will inspire many others across the continent. For sure, with REGIOSTARS we have learnt that excellence and innovation are everywhere in Europe. You just need to look for them and highlight them as they deserve. We will keep looking for them and we will keep supporting them.”

The awards cover five categories and a public choice prize:

For ‘SMART Europe: Increasing the competitiveness of local businesses in a digital world’ (1st category) the award went to Integration 3D metal printing from Belgium. The project supports the implementation of the 3D metal printing technology in small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) through a very innovative integrated approach to knowledge and technology. The idea is easily transferable to other contexts with industrial tradition.

For ‘GREEN Europe: Green and resilient communities in urban and rural setting’ (2nd category) the award was given to ICCARUS (Gent knapt op) for providing a unique housing renovation financial scheme for 100 vulnerable homeowners in Ghent, Belgium. This project has a strong social component and is easily transferable, both to other places, including to less developed regions, and other sectors.

The award for ‘FAIR Europe: Fostering inclusion and anti-discrimination’ (3rd category) went to TREE – Training for integrating Refugees in the Euregion, which facilitates the integration of refugees through the  development of a needs-based training programme for practitioners working with refugees and migrants, and a qualification programme for social interpreters. The winners are from the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium.

Travelling Solidary Cannery received the award in the 4th category, ‘URBAN Europe: Promoting green, sustainable and circular food systems in functional urban areas’. The project provides the disadvantaged access to healthy and fair food at affordable prices all year round. At the same time, it develops a new range of professions centred on the production, valorisation, logistics and marketing of local products, but also of unsold products from supermarkets or surplus harvests. The winner is from Belgium.

Under the topic of the year: ‘Enhancing green mobility in the regions – European Year of Rail 2021’ (5th category) the winner is North-West Multimodal Transport Hub from the United Kingdom and Ireland. This project provides an increased rail capacity, a strong balance of services for cycling, public transport and active travel users in Londonderry and an encouraging modal shift from car to public transport.

Finally, the ‘Public Choice Award’ goes to BEGIN, a project that unites cities, citizens, and stakeholders through the co-creation of blue and green infrastructure projects in 10 EU cities in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Norway and Germany. The project aims at reducing flood risk by up to 30% and improving livability. Other public favorites were Balkan Road (under the 1st category), Baltazar (3rd category), Digital Farming Specialist (4th category) and Transporte A Pedido (5th category).

Background

The REGIOSTARS Awards are the yearly competition organised by the Commission since 2008: it has become Europe’s label of excellence for EU-funded projects under Cohesion policy that demonstrate innovative and inclusive approaches to regional development.

Each year, hundreds of projects compete in five categories: ‘Smart Europe’, ‘Green Europe’, ‘Fair Europe’, ‘Urban Europe’, and the topic of the year. The public can participate by voting for their favourite project among all finalists for the public choice award.

By bringing about solutions to common challenges and tapping into the biggest opportunities, the REGIOSTARS have inspired regions to deliver evermore-impactful EU Cohesion policy.

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EU Politics

Commission proposes to strengthen coordination of safe travel in the EU

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European Commission has proposed to update the rules on coordination of safe and free movement in the EU, which were put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the summer, vaccine uptake has increased significantly and the EU Digital COVID Certificate has been rolled out successfully, with more than 650 million certificates issued to date. At the same time, the epidemiological situation in the EU continues to develop with some Member States taking additional public health measures, including administering booster vaccines. Taking into account all those factors, the Commission is proposing a stronger focus on a ‘person-based’ approach to travel measures and a standard acceptance period for vaccination certificates of 9 months since the primary vaccination series. The 9 month period takes into account the guidance of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on the administration of booster doses as of 6 months, and provides for an additional period of 3 months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can adjust and citizens can have access to boosters.

The Commission is also proposing updates to the EU traffic light map; as well as a simplified ‘emergency brake’ procedure. 

The Commission is also proposing today to update the rules on external travel to the EU [press release available as of 14:15].

Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, said: “Since the start of the pandemic, the Commission has been fully active in finding solutions to guarantee the safe free movement of people in a coordinated manner. In light of the latest developments and scientific evidence, we are proposing a new recommendation to be adopted by the Council. Based on our common tool, the EU Digital COVID Certificate, which has become a real standard, we are moving to a ‘person-based’ approach. Our main objective is avoid diverging measures throughout the EU. This also applies to the question of boosters, which will be essential to fight the virus. Among other measures, we propose today that the Council agrees on a standard validity period for vaccination certificates issued following the primary series. Agreeing on this proposal will be crucial for the months ahead and the protection of the safe free movement for citizens.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety added:  “The EU Digital COVID Certificate and our coordinated approach to travel measures have greatly contributed to safe free movement, with the protection of public health as our priority. We have vaccinated over 65% of the total EU population, but this is not enough. There are still too many people who are not protected. For everyone to travel and live as safely as possible, we need to reach significantly higher vaccination rates – urgently. We also need to reinforce our immunity with booster vaccines. Taking into account the guidance from ECDC, and to allow Member States to adjust their vaccination campaigns and for citizens to have access to boosters, we propose a standard acceptance period for vaccination certificates. At the same time, we have to continue to strongly encouraging everyone to continue to respect public health measures. Our masks need to stay on.”

Key updates to the common approach to travel measures within the EU proposed by the Commission are:

Focus on a ‘person-based approach’: a person who has a valid EU Digital COVID Certificate should in principle not be subject to additional restrictions, such as tests or quarantine, regardless of their place of departure in the EU. Persons without an EU Digital COVID Certificate could be required to undergo a test carried out prior to or after arrival.

Standard validity of vaccination certificates: To avoid diverging and disruptive approaches, the Commission proposes a standard acceptance period of 9-month for vaccination certificates issued following the completion of the primary vaccination series. The 9 month period takes into account the guidance of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on the administration of booster doses as of 6 months, and provides for an additional period of 3 months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can adjust and citizens can have access to boosters. This means that, in the context of travel, Member States should not refuse a vaccination certificate that has been issued less than 9 months since the administration of the last dose of the primary vaccination. Member States should immediately take all necessary steps to ensure access to vaccination for those population groups whose previously issued vaccination certificates approach the 9-month limit.

Booster shots: As of yet, there are no studies expressly addressing the effectiveness of boosters on transmission of COVID-19 and therefore it is not possible to determine an acceptance period for boosters. However, given the emerging data it can be expected that protection from booster vaccinations may last longer than that resulting from the primary vaccination series. The Commission will closely monitor newly emerging scientific evidence on this issue. On the basis of such evidence, the Commission may, if needed, propose an appropriate acceptance period also for vaccination certificates issued following a booster.

The EU traffic light map is adapted: combining new cases with a region’s vaccine uptake. The map would be mainly for information purposes, but would also serve to coordinate measures for areas with particularly low (‘green’) or particularly high level (‘dark red’) of circulation of the virus. For these areas, specific rules would apply by derogation from the ‘persons-based approach’. For travellers from ‘green’ areas, no restrictions should be applied. Travel to and from ‘dark red’ areas should be discouraged, given the high number of new infections there, and persons who are neither vaccinated nor have recovered from the virus should be required to undergo a pre-departure test and quarantine after arrival (with special rules for essential travelers and children under 12 years old).

Exemptions from certain travel measures: should apply for cross-border commuters, children under 12 and essential travellers. The list of essential travellers should be reduced as many travellers included in the current list have had the opportunity to be vaccinated in the meantime.

Simplified ‘emergency brake’ procedure: the emergency procedure intended to delay the spread of possible new COVID-19 variants or address particularly serious situations should be simplified and more operational. It would include a Member State notification to the Commission and the Council and a roundtable at the Council’s Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR).

To allow for sufficient time for the coordinated approach to be implemented, the Commission proposes that these updates apply as of 10 January 2022.

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EU Politics

EU: new laws on political advertising, electoral rights and party funding

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The European Commission has today presented a proposal on transparency and targeting of political advertising, as part of measures aimed at protecting election integrity and open democratic debate.  The proposed rules would require any political advert to be clearly labelled as such and include information such as who paid for it and how much. Political targeting and amplification techniques would need to be explained publicly in unprecedented detail and, would be banned when using sensitive personal data without explicit consent of the individual. The Commission also proposes to update the current EU rules concerning EU “mobile citizens” and their right to vote in European and municipal elections as well as on European political parties and foundations.

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourová said: “Elections must not be a competition of opaque and non-transparent methods. People must know why they are seeing an ad, who paid for it, how much, what micro-targeting criteria were used. New technologies should be tools for emancipation, not for manipulation. This ambitious proposal will bring unprecedented level of transparency to political campaigning and limit the opaque targeting techniques.”

Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said: “Fair and transparent elections are an integral part of a vibrant and functioning society. That is why we need to support inclusive and equal participation in the 2024 elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections across the EU. With the proposal on political advertising, we are securing the use of personal data in context of political targeting, protecting the democratic process. Together, we are making progress with our common work for democracy.”

Clear rules on transparency and targeting of political advertising

With the digital transition under way, people must be able to easily distinguish whether they are looking at paid political content – offline and online, and be able to participate in open debates, free from disinformation, interference and manipulation. People should be able to clearly see who sponsored a political advert and why. The main measures set out in the proposed Regulation on transparency and targeting of political adverts include:

Scope: Political ads will cover ads by, for or on behalf of a political actor as well as so called issue-based ads which are liable to influence the outcome of an election or referendum, a legislative or regulatory process or voting behaviour.

Transparency labels: Paid political advertising must be clearly labelled and provide a set of key information. This includes the name of the sponsor prominently displayed and an easily retrievable transparency notice with (1) the amount spent on the political advertisement, (2) the sources of the funds used and (3) a link between the advertisement and the relevant elections or referenda.

Strict conditions for targeting and amplification: Political targeting and amplification techniques, which use or infer sensitive personal data, such as ethnic origin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, will be banned. Such techniques will be allowed only after an explicit consent from a person concerned. Targeting could also be allowed in the context of legitimate activities of foundations, associations or not-for-profit bodies with a political, philosophical, religious or trade union aim, when it targets their own members. For the first time it will be mandatory to include into the ads’ clear information on what basis the person is targeted and to publish which groups of individuals were targeted, on the basis of which criteria and with what amplification tools or methods, among others. Organisations making use of political targeting and amplification will need to adopt, apply and make public an internal policy on the use of such techniques. If all transparency requirements cannot be met, a political add cannot be published.

Fines for breaches: Member States will be required to introduce effective, proportionate and dissuasive fines when the rules on transparency of political advertising are breached. Under the proposed Regulation, National Data Protection Authorities will monitor specifically the use of personal data in political targeting and have the power to impose fines in line with EU data protection rules.

Update of EU rules on EU political parties and foundations and on electoral rights

The Commission has also proposed to revise the EU rules on funding of European political parties and foundations. The current framework had a number of loopholes, preventing the parties and foundations from operating and fulfilling their mission to represent the voice of EU citizens. The updates to the Regulation seek to facilitate European political parties interactions with their national member parties and across borders, increase transparency, in particular in relation to political advertisement and donations, cut excessive administrative burden and increase the financial viability of European political parties and foundations.

Finally, the Commission has proposed to update the current rules on European elections and municipal for EU citizens who reside in a different Member State to their state of nationality (“mobile EU citizens”). While there are around 13.5 million such citizens, very few exercise their right to vote in European and municipal elections. In order to ensure inclusive participation ahead of European elections in 2024, the Commission proposes targeted amendments to the existing Directives on electoral rights including, among others, obligation to inform such citizens proactively of their electoral rights, use standardised templates for registration as voters or candidates as well as use of language broadly spoken by the mobile EU citizens residing at the territory. The proposal also includes safeguards for EU mobile citizens not to be de-registered from electoral roll in the country of their origin.

Next Steps

The proposals will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council. To ensure that the 2024 elections to the European Parliament take place under the highest democratic standards, the aim is for the new rules to enter into force and be fully implemented by Member States by spring 2023, i.e. one year before the elections.

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