In 2017, the European Commission wants to focus on the important issues, on specific measures which improve people’s lives. The aim is to make the European Union attractive once again, especially to EU citizens who increasingly have the impression that their well-being and needs are being neglected at the expense of economic interests.
European Pillar of Social Rights
Strengthening the social dimension will help achieve this, for example, by establishing a “European Pillar of Social Rights”. Based on responses from a survey conducted in 2016, which the German Social Insurance also participated in, Brussels would soon like to present its consolidated concept for a “European Pillar of Social Rights”. Prior to this, a discussion with stakeholder representatives will take place on 23 January 2017. The German Social Insurance is of the opinion that strengthening the social dimension within the EU is fundamentally to be welcomed. However, the EU should have a supporting role at the most.
In addition, the European Commission has committed itself to further initiatives which are either directly or indirectly of interest to statutory social insurance providers and their insured members:
Coordination of social insurance systems
The European Commission presented a revision of the EU Regulation on coordination of social insurance systems shortly before the end of the year. The proposed revision mainly affects the following: long-term care benefits, unemployment benefits, family benefits, access to social benefits for economically inactive citizens, and rules concerning the verification of rights for posted workers (see news article 12/2016).
Standardisation of Health and Social Services
Activities related to the standardisation of social and health services at European level will continue to be carefully followed by the German Social Insurance. Although the European Commission has not yet mandated the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) to standardise health services, the CEN has been actively working on the issue. This includes a focus group where national standardisation bodies and European stakeholders are discussing the need for standards in health services including rehabilitation and prevention services and the value they add. The German Social Insurance is monitoring the work done by this group and provides its expertise on the issue (see news article 6/2016).
EU-free trade agreements
In addition, discussions related to the conclusion of free trade agreements by the EU with countries such as Canada or the USA remain on the agenda of the German Social Insurance. Even though TTIP has been put on hold for the time being, the issue of ratifying CETA, particularly given the opinion of Advocate General Sharpston on EUFSTA (EU-Singapore agreement), remains of great interest. In her decision on the legal character of EUFSTA, Sharpston pointed out the rights of national parliaments in mixed agreements (see news article 12/2016). Furthermore, the TiSa multilateral services agreement, which continues to be discussed behind closed doors, should not be forgotten because this also raises questions about how services provided or financed by social insurance providers will be handled.
Reform of EU-VAT rules
Issues such as abolishing “special treatment” of public bodies with regard to value-added tax (VAT), keeping VAT exemptions or reducing certain benefits, all of which have already been discussed at European level, could again be on the EU Commission’s agenda. Even if the current EU consultation on VAT reforms is not directly focused on these issues, the German Social Insurance will be keeping a close eye on them. The reason for this is that the EU Commission announced last year that, at the very least, there will be a discussion about the special treatment of public bodies in 2017. The umbrella associations of the German social insurance system have repeatedly stated their strong opposition to this.
The future world of work
Given the growing digitalisation of the economy, the future world of work is being increasingly discussed at European level. Societies and labour markets are changing due to new forms of work and technologies. These changes bring with them challenges to statutory social insurance because it is vital to ensure that nobody is left behind, especially as a result of emerging digital platforms and the collaborative economy, which create new job opportunities, particularly for self-employed persons. However, the German Social Insurance believes that solutions must be found at national level and that any relevant activities at European level must be closely monitored.
Since the introduction of the “European Semester”, the German Social Insurance has been regularly monitoring the “country-specific recommendations” which the EU Commission and Council provide annually to every Member State. They frequently contain comments on social reform issues. Last year, the German recommendations focused on pension insurance including better incentives for later retirement; however, health and long-term care were not addressed in the recommendations to Germany. The repeated request towards other Member States to align automatically the statutory pension age with increased life expectancy is particularly problematic. In addition, one more strategic goal of the Union, to close the "gender pension gap", is in the pipeline. In this respect, an appropriate indicator is still to be developed in 2017. These debates have to be closely followed and, if necessary, influenced in particular due to possible clashes with employment goals. It remains to be seen which recommendations Germany will receive in 2017.
Additional topics that the statutory social insurance providers will focus on include the strengthening of EU-wide cooperation on health technology assessment (HTA); access to effective and affordable medicines; digital health; integration of people with disabilities; and revision of the 24 key OSH directives and the strategic framework for OSH.
We will deal with these issues and many more this year – we will follow them closely and we will dedicate ourselves to finding the best possible solutions for the German social insurance system and the people it insures.