Employment, education and social protection focusing on the post-coronavirus era

IF – 05/2021

The Social Summit, held on May 7 and 8, was supposed to be the highlight of the Portuguese EU council presidency and a return to everyday life after months of pandemic. The Summit focused on three key issues:


  • work and employment
  • skills and innovation
  • welfare state and social security.

The first day was devoted to two plenary sessions on the European Pillar of Social Rights, including interventions by social partners as well as three parallel workshops on work and employment, skills and innovation and the welfare state and social security.

The EU institutions, the European social partners and representatives of civil society subsequently agreed on a declaration to commit to implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights. Member States were called upon to take measures to strengthen national social security systems, promote social cohesion, combat any kind of discrimination in employment and ensure equal opportunities.

Grumbling even before the summit started

11 countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden) had published in a joint paper before the summit stating that implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights was primarily up to the member states. Whereas these countries welcome EU-level targets, the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality should be respected and they called for the monitoring of implementation targets to take current national situations into consideration.

Much is to be achieved by 2030

The signatories called on the EC to endorse the three main 2030 targets set out in the action plan:


  • achieving an employment rate of at least 78%
  • ensuring that at least 60% of Europeans participate in training annually

reducing the number of people living in poverty or social exclusion by at least 15 million.

Consent from the heads of state or government

For the heads of state and government, the second day of the Summit marked the first in-person meeting since December last year. They supported the Porto Declaration, the EC's action plan involving the European Pillar of Social Rights and, in particular, the objectives set for the EU for 2030 and their implementation through the European semester. Whether this is just a promise remains to be seen. Europe is to gradually become more social if the key decision-makers have their way.

The Porto declaration

The published declaration broadly summarises the action plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights and highlights key objectives such as improvements in employment relations in the labour market, the reduction of the gender pension gap and the inclusion of people with disabilities and older people. The commitment of all heads of state and government to make Europe more socially responsible for its people was made clear.


You can find the declaration here.