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Debate on Europe’s social dimension continues

The European Commission is looking for ways to get Europe out of its current crisis. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hopes that also strengthening the social dimension will make the European Union more attractive. However, the EU should only play a supporting role.

IW – 04/2017

By strengthening the social component Jean-Claude Juncker wishes to combat the scepticism of EU citizens that has developed in recent years and regain confidence in the European Union. In his State of the Union speech in 2015, Juncker first announced the establishment of a European pillar of social rights.  

Following extensive consultations, the revised pillar of social rights is expected to be released by the EU Commission on 26 April 2017. This might provide answers to some of the questions that have arisen in the last few months because it is still not clear what can actually be achieved with a European pillar of social rights.  


Regardless of the path taken by the European Union, the German social insurance system has clear views: defining, structuring and financing social security systems lie within the competence of the Member States. The legal situation determines whether the EU can play a greater role (OSH) or lesser role (pensions, health, labour markets).  

The clear division of competences is becoming repeatedly questionable. Recent discussions over the European pillar of social rights indicate that there is conflict regarding competences (see article "Eu­ro­pean Pil­lar of So­cial Rights: Po­si­tion of the Ger­man So­cial In­sur­ance"). 


Even the White Paper on the Future of Europe published in March raises questions. The White Paper describes five scenarios of how a unified Europe, consisting of the 27 Member States, could evolve until 2025 (see article Commission President Juncker presents White Paper on the Future of Europe). In the view of the German statutory social insurance special attention should be paid to the fifth option. According to this scenario, significantly deeper integration in all policy areas, including social policy, would shape the future of Europe. Social competences would be “shared” in order to make joint decisions, an option that undermines the tried and tested division of competences between the Member States and the EU. In contrast, one of the other scenarios talks about focusing on fewer areas, which offer added value, such as technical innovation, migration or border defence. This would lead to a withdrawal from areas including employment, social policy and health.  

The various scenarios will be hotly debated in the coming months, kicked off by the meeting of the Heads of State and Government in Rome as part of the 60th anniversary of the European Union. It remains to be seen which way the EU will actually go in the coming months. However, one thing is clear – it is not only the UK that has to re-establish itself after Brexit, the remaining 27 Member States must also decide how they want to go on in the future.  

The German statutory social insurance system will continue to monitor events and be actively involved in upcoming EU initiatives such as the initiative for access to social protection. It can be assumed that the EU Commission would like to discuss various issues such as the possibility of extending social protection to all workers and whether this is needed. In addition, the EU Commission would like to see consideration given to reforming the Directive on an employer’s obligation to provide information on conditions of the employment relationship. According to the current regulations, the employer must inform the employee in writing of the conditions applicable to the employment relationship prior to commencement or shortly thereafter (Written Statement Directive 91/533/EC). The EU Commission could also open up the discussion as to whether the EU Directive should be extended to all workers, for example, platform workers.