Strengthening the social dimension within the EU is to be welcomed. However, the EU should have a supporting role at most.

IW – 12/2016

Strengthening the social dimension

The European Commission wants to direct attention to the social dimension and the fundamental importance of social protection in the European Union; in order to do this, it wants to create a new pillar of social rights. In principle, the German Social Insurance welcomes this move because without a social dimension, acceptance of European integration will not improve in the short or long term. 


Back in spring 2016, the Commission presented its initial ideas for a European Pillar of Social Rights and opened this up for discussion. The umbrella associations of the German social insurance system participated in the public consultation with detailed comments.  

Safeguarding national rights

They welcome the initiative’s goal of strengthening the social dimension within the EU. At the same time, however, they point out that national rights in the area of social security must be safeguarded. 


The German Social Insurance believes that the division of competences between the EU and the Member States, which is based on the principle of subsidiarity, must not be called into question during the further development of the EU’s social acquis. Responsibility for deciding how to effectively and efficiently achieve adequate and sustainable national social protection under the respective conditions of each country should remain in the hands of the Member States. Only when joint action is necessary should the EU be mandated to intervene. However, apart from occupational safety and health, the necessity for this is not evident. The pillar is particularly unsuitable for health and long-term care policy as well as statutory pension insurance systems. 


Mandatory provisions placed upon the Member States do not appear to be particularly promising because each Member States has different framework conditions and their respective social security systems vary in terms of economic performance and complexity. 


Therefore, the umbrella associations of the German social insurance system are of the opinion that a European Pillar of Social Rights should only provide the Member States with general, non-binding principles that take into consideration their freedom to organise their own social security systems. A possible example of this would be a general recommendation from the European Commission to the Member States that they guarantee access to the social security system for all workers. However, the way in which this general goal is achieved must remain reserved to the Member States themselves, particularly given the diversity of the systems.  

European Pillar of Social Rights – many questions still unanswered

The German Social Insurance believes that there are still many open issues in the European Commission’s draft proposal. It is particularly unclear how the European Pillar of Social Rights will affect the individual areas of social policy. 


Therefore, the umbrella associations have clearly stated their position on the European discussion through the comments they made as part of the public consultation which were especially detailed in policy areas such as health and long-term care, pensions, occupational safety and health, and benefits for people with disabilities. They do not regard the Pillar of Social Rights as suitable for screening performance. Although the Member States face some common challenges, they also face some very different ones and these should be addressed primarily at national level.  


The German version of the complete position paper can be viewed at: