Access to social protection for all

What could an EU initiative look like?

SW – 12/2017

The European Pillar of Social Rights is starting to come to life. The European Commission has initiated a series of consultations that pave the way towards the 12th principle set out in the Pillar. Member States are being called upon to ensure access to social protection for all workers regardless of their type of employment. The European Commission wants to know if, and how, an EU initiative could help the Member States. 

Aim of the consultation

The aim of the Commission’s consultation, which the umbrella organisations of the German social insurance system will contribute to, is to gather the views of interested parties on the possibilities, effects and implementation of a range of possible tools at EU level regarding how an EU initiative could be designed. 


According to the Commission, there are groups of workers in many Member States, especially those in non-standard employment and self-employment, who do not have access to adequate social protection or are completely excluded from it. 


Concurrently, the social partners are being asked for their opinions on what an EU initiative should look like. The first phase of the consultation was conducted by the EU Commission in spring. 

Where are there gaps in social protection?

In a background document for the consultation, the Commission addressed where they consider there are gaps in formal and effective coverage. Even if workers in non-standard employment or self-employment are formally covered by social protection systems, they often do not have effective access because they do not meet eligibility criteria, such as duration of contribution periods. Ensuring adequate social protection can also be impacted by short-sightedness. For example, those on low or irregular incomes, particularly solo self-employed and people in non-standard short-term employment, are likely to forego or reduce contributions. The Commission also believes that the transferability and transparency of rights must be improved (see DSV article).  

Responsibility of the Member States

In April, the German Social Insurance submitted comments on possible options for an initiative as part of an inception impact assessment. 


The umbrella organisation of Germany’s social insurance system welcomed the Commission’s initiative to launch a debate on social protection for workers in all forms of employment. However, the German Social Insurance also pointed out that the specific design of social security systems and adapting them to the changing world of work is the responsibility of the Member States, especially given the diverse nature of the various systems and differences in their economic robustness (see DSV article).  

Consultation with the Commission

In addition to the current consultation, the EU Commission is also consulting with specific stakeholder groups on a possible initiative at EU level. Statutory insurance organisations from various Member States, as well as private insurance companies, were given the opportunity to voice their opinions at an event held by the European Representation of the German Social Insurance on 15 December. The German Social Insurance (DSV) took the opportunity to once again highlight that the division of competences allows the Member States to meet the demands placed upon them by diverse national systems, socio-political preferences and differences in economic robustness. The DSV also pointed out that the exchange of good practices, for example, via the Open Method of Coordination; peer-review procedures at European level; and recommendations for general definitions can help the Member States to implement the goals stipulated in the Pillar of Social Rights to provide adequate social protection for people in all forms of employment. In the opinion of the German Social Insurance, these procedures can help the Member States to learn from one another and thus ensure access to social protection in a changing world of work. 


The consultation is open until 15 January 2018 and interested parties are invited to submit a contribution.  


The Commission’s ‘Access to Social Protection’ initiative is a response to concerns raised by stakeholders regarding access to social protection and employment services for workers in non-standard employment and self-employment during the consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights. The European Pillar of Social Rights acts as a compass for efficient employment policy and social outcomes. In it, the Commission has recommended that ‘regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship, workers, and, under comparable conditions, the self-employed, have the right to adequate social protection’. 


However, the European Pillar of Social Rights does not affect the right of Member States to set out the essential principles of their social security systems and it must not impact negatively on the financial equilibrium of these systems. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Member States to implement the recommendation put forward in the Pillar.