Can wellbeing contribute to economic growth? Yes, says the EU Council.

UM – 10/2019

Finland is using its presidency to better align economic and social issues. As such, an Economy of Wellbeing is not a contradiction in terms. On the basis of a sound economic policy, it is worth investing in the sustainability of social and health polices, in short: in people’s wellbeing. This is also necessary due to the constantly increasing challenges facing labour markets due to digitalisation, demographic change and increased globalisation.

Pillar and internal market go hand in hand

At the heart of the Economy of Wellbeing is the European Pillar of Social Rights with its comprehensive set of social policy recommendations. A strong, well-functioning internal market with all its dimensions forms its basis. On 24 October 2019, the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of the European Union (EPSCO) declared itself in favour of promoting the Economy of Wellbeing.

Competencies not compromised

In its conclusions, EPSCO stresses that the horizontal approach based on collaboration between different policy areas is embedded in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and the European Social Charter of 1961. It continues the Health in All Policies approach from 2006. As such, there is no need for new structures – competences and responsibilities do not require changing. The ideas inspired by the Economy of Wellbeing could be implemented without compromising the competences of the Member States and with full respect for the autonomy of the social partners at national and European level. This was the key message of the Council conclusions.

Motivate Member States via the European Semester

Member States are being called upon to conduct a comprehensive assessment of policy initiatives in terms of their impact on the wellbeing of people in their country and to develop appropriate indicators for this assessment. Specific support measures should be put in place for the unemployed or people at risk of losing their jobs. Adequate social protection can be ensured through access to high-quality, affordable and sustainable services. Health promotion and preventive measures should be strengthened, and lifelong learning made possible. The European Semester should be used as the tool for implanting this process.

Strategic integration of the Commission

The European Commission is invited to develop a long-term strategy to make the European Union the most competitive and socially inclusive, climate-neutral economic area in the world. This includes reviewing the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work and ensuring that concrete measures are put in place to reduce the gender pay gap. It should develop new initiatives to address disability policies and to promote high-quality early childhood education and care. The Commission is also being asked to issue a communication that highlights the cross-sectoral impacts of different policies on mental health, and link this to a Mental Health Strategy.  

Steady does it ...

A Council Presidency is a ‘gentle force’. Conclusions reached by the Council during its six-monthly rotating presidencies are, by their very nature, formulated in a soft way. They are also not binding. The more the European Union succeeds in sharpening its social policy instruments – the European Pillar of Social Rights and the European Semester – the more likely it is that gentle force will be able to develop discernible powers of action. The new Commission, which is expected to commence its work on 1 December, will be determined to do this. It will also need a lot of patience.