EU ministers are pushing for greater consideration to be given to social aspects in all future economic policies.

TH – 10/2021

On 15 October, a meeting of the EU ministers for Labour and Social Affairs was held in Luxembourg as part of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) council meeting. They discussed the future of the European Semester - an annual process in which Member States coordinate their economic, fiscal, labour and social policies within the EU. There was an emphatic call for ensuring that future economic policies and reforms always take the social dimensions into consideration. The European Pillar of Social Rights and its action plan, together with the key objectives that were laid down for employment, qualifications and poverty reduction up to 2030, should serve as the guidelines for this.

Ministers adopted key messages from the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee. There were also exchanges about the important changes that are taking place in the working world, such as the ageing of our societies and the role of health and safety in the workplace. Gender mainstreaming conclusions in the EU budget were also approved.

Will country recommendations no longer be made annually in the future?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a number of changes being made to the European Semester 2021 processes, as they are focused on national (post-pandemic) recovery and resilience plans. The Employment and Social Affairs ministers are interested in returning to a semester process that should include a strong social dimension. Therefore, there was intensive discussion about how the European Pillar of Social Rights (ESPR) action plan and, in particular the three key EU employment, qualifications and poverty reduction objectives could best be reflected in a future European Semester.

The policy debate pointed out that fairness and social cohesion should be among the core economic recovery objectives after COVID-19. The need for a strong role for the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs council and its preliminary committees in the Semester process was stressed. The ministers also urged returning to the Semester process with country reports and recommendations for the Member States as soon as possible and this could also be multi-annual. Appropriate monitoring should also be implemented in future, with the aim of laying down feasible and realistic key objectives.

All of this should ensure that a social and employment dimension is included in the Semester 2022 process. Following the debate, the Council President sent a letter to the President of the Economic and Monetary Union Council that contained the main messages.

The results of the council meeting can be found here.