Within the Belgium EU Presidency key Priority “A Europe that Cares”, the first informal meeting of employment and social affairs ministers (EPSCO) took place over the last 2 days. This informal Council meeting brought together the ministers of EU Member States with the relevant European Commissioners, representatives of the European Parliament, ministers from the EFTA Countries as well as the 2 candidate countries (Ukraine and Moldova), and representatives of the social partners and civil society.
The meeting was dedicated to discussing the future strategic agenda of the Union, with specific attention to labour market shortages and access to social protection and social services, as well as the relation between EU social policies, the global agenda and the EU enlargement process.
The meeting stressed that thanks to the European Pillar of Social Rights, and its Action Plan, a lot of activities were undertaken in the social field, including the minimum wage directive, the pay transparency directive and the SURE initiative to support job retention schemes during the Covid pandemic. Overall, the ministers believe that the European Pillar of Social Rights should remain the compass in the years to come. However, new challenges, related to climate change, digitalisation, demographic evolution, the housing crisis and the deteriorating geopolitical environment need a robust response and targeted action. Although these evolutions provide several opportunities, they also come with a risk of social exclusion, job polarisation and deteriorating wages and working conditions. The ministers reminded that it is time to remember the importance of the social dimension of Europe, and to give a new impetus to the implementation of the European pillar of Social Rights. This is the added value of Europe: protect, prepare and strengthen people.
The discussions and outcomes of this meeting will feed into the work of the different EU institutions, next to shaping the interinstitutional declaration on the role of employment and social policies in the strategic agenda for the EU that the Heads of State and Government in the European Council will discuss. This declaration is foreseen to be adopted in the context of a conference on Social Europe that the Belgian Presidency will organise on 15 and 16 April 2024.
“We cannot have a European Union without it also being a social union, a Union that supports member states in the development of national welfare states, that supports member states in finding new and innovative solutions to the challenges we all face”, Frank Vandenbroucke, Minister of Health and Social Affairs of Belgium.