The European Commission, a body of the European Union, adopted a proposal to endorse the European Pillar of Social Rights that sets out 20 key principles and rights aimed at improving working and living conditions of persons within the EU, focusing specifically on labor markets and welfare systems. The principles and rights in the Pillar draw on already existing law in the region, both within the EU and the Council of Europe, and on legal instruments established through the United Nations. In particular, the Pillar draws on the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, the European Social Charter, and the European Code of Social Security of the Council of Europe. The Pillar makes binding EU legal provisions more explicit and understandable for citizens and stakeholders, and expands on elements of already existing law, specifically as they relate to equal opportunities and access to the labor market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion. See European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document (2017), at 2-4. A scoreboard will monitor and assess the compliance of EU Member States with the principles of the Pillar. See European Commission, Scoreboard.
Supporting the idea that the social and economic realms of Europe are intertwined, the Pillar’s goal is to curb employment and social challenges in the current financial and economic context, including the challenges that arose from the economic crisis, such as long-term unemployment. See European Commission, Proposal for an Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights (2017), at 4. The Pillar will be presented as a European Commission Recommendation and as a proposal for joint proclamation by the Parliament, the Council, and the Commission in the EU. The Council of Europe, a separate regional intergovernmental organization to which all EU Member States are a party, has also shown its support for the Pillar. [COE Press Release]
Pillar Goals and Elements
The Pillar builds on 20 principles and rights divided in three chapters; chapter one explains and expands on “equal opportunities and access to the labor market,” chapter two focuses on “fair working conditions,” and chapter three on “social protection and inclusion.” See European Commission, Proposal for an Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights (2017), at 5-9.
The chapter on “equal opportunities and access to the labor market” encompasses four principles. These include education and training; gender equality; equal opportunities regardless of “gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation”; and active support for employment, including “tailor-made” support for job search, training, and re-qualification. See id. at 5-6.
The chapter on “fair working conditions” covers six principles on secure and adaptable employment; wages; information about employment conditions and protection in case of dismissal; social dialogue and involvement of workers; work-life balance; and healthy, safe, and well-adapted work environment and data protection. See id. at 6-8.
The final 10 principles seek to advance “social protection and inclusion.” The principles cover childcare and support to children, which includes the right to affordable education and to protection from poverty; social protection regardless of the type of employment, duration, or employment relationship; unemployment benefits; minimum income; old age income and pensions that are equal between genders and ensure living with dignity; access to affordable, preventative, and curative healthcare; inclusion of people with disabilities with regard to the right to income and participation in the labor market; long-term care services; housing and assistance for the homeless; and access to essential services, such as food, water, transport, and digital communications. See id. at 8-9.
The principles in the Pillar apply to “all persons in employment” within the European Union who have legal residence status or are citizens of a Member State. It also applies regardless of employment status or duration. See id. The European Commission emphasized that the implementation of the Pillar is a “shared commitment and responsibility” between the European Union and its Member States, and as such, it should be implemented at both levels. See id. at 5.
The Pillar’s implementation will be monitored using an online social scoreboard to track the trends and the performance of European Union Member States. The scoreboard monitors 12 areas that are classified within three dimensions, and categorized by several indicators. The areas include education, skills and lifelong learning; gender equality in the labor market; inequality and upward mobility; living conditions and poverty; youth; labor force structure; labor market dynamics; income, including employment-related; impact of public policies on reducing poverty; early childhood care; healthcare; and digital access. See European Commission, Scoreboard.
A Social Summit in Sweden on November 17, 2017, has been scheduled to discuss the Pillar within a broader discussion on the social dimension of Europe. See European Commission, Endorsing the European Pillar of Social Rights.
The Pillar’s Origins
In keeping with the EU’s goals to encourage sustainable development; promote well-being, equality, and social justice; and diminish discrimination, several bodies of the EU previously called for the regional body to “reinforce social rights” and to ensure economic and social security. See European Commission, Proposal for an Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights (2017), at 3. Thereafter, the European Commission carried out a public consultation on a preliminary outline of the Pillar between March and December 2016. The consultation resulted in a resolution on the Pillar, which was adopted on January 19, 2017. On January 23, 2017 the European Commission held a conference on the Pillar to present a consolidated version that was then adopted on April 26, 2017. See European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions (2017).
The Pillar takes into account existing laws and instruments established within the European Union framework, within the Council of Europe framework, and at the United Nations. The principles and rights elaborate on the EU’s Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers (Community Charter) and the Council of Europe’s Revised European Social Charter and European Code of Social Security of the Council of Europe. It also takes into account International Labour Organization (ILO) – a specialized agency of the UN – conventions, recommendations, and protocols and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). See European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document (2017), at 2-4.
The Pillar will not affect the existing regional and universal systems responsible for reviewing and monitoring the implementation of social rights. The Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) monitors implementation of the European Social Charter, which includes various workers’ rights, the right to social security, the right to healthcare, the right of persons with disabilities to social inclusion, the right of children to protection, and the right to equal treatment of the sexes in employment, among others.
The ECSR has both a reporting system and a collective complaints mechanism. Through the latter procedure, employers, trade unions, and international non-governmental organizations with participatory status before the Council of Europe may submit collective complaints against a Member State that has accepted the procedure through ratification of the European Social Charter’s Additional Protocol Providing for a System of Collective Complaints. The European Court of Human Rights, which has jurisdiction over complaints that allege violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, may also hear individual complaints that allege violations of economic, social, or cultural rights. See IJRC, European Committee of Social Rights; IJRC, Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; IJRC, European Court of Human Rights.
At the universal level, the main bodies that monitor compliance with economic, social, and cultural rights are the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Labour Organization (ILO). The former reviews reports on compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and may review individual complaints against States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. The ILO reviews State compliance with its conventions through its supervisory system and its complaint procedure. See IJRC, Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
The European Commission is an institution of the European Union headquartered in Brussels and Luxembourg, but with representation offices throughout the EU and delegations outside of the EU. See European Commission, Locations. It is the EU’s politically independent executive arm responsible for proposing EU laws and policies, monitoring their implementation, enforcing EU law together with the Court of Justice, and representing the EU internationally. See European Commission, About. It is composed of one member of each EU country, which together form a College of Commissioners, and led by a Commission President. An individual may contact and engage with the European Commission in various manners, including by suggesting changes or new policies, responding to a public consultation on an issue of concern, launching a European Citizens’ Initiative, or making a formal complaint if EU law is not being implemented correctly.