High-level expert group has presented its recommendations

VS – 02/2023

The European Commission previously announced the establishment of a high-level expert group to examine the future of the welfare state, its financing and its links with the changing working world as well as climate change as part of its European Pillar of Social Rights action plan.

This group, which was established in November 2021 and chaired by the former Greek Minister and EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Anna Diamantopoulou, presented its Final report on 7 February. In it, the authors presented 21 recommendations grouped around nine strategic objectives for integrated social protection throughout everyone’s lifetimes.

The effects of megatrends on social protection

The task of this expert group was to analyse the expected effects of megatrends such as demographic change, labour market transformations, digitisation and globalisation as well as the emergence of new risks relating to social protection, whilst keeping an eye on climate change and the green deal as well. Based on this, the group was asked to develop recommendations for the design and scope of social protection systems as well as their financing.

Social protection policy during specific life phases

The report placed the life stages of EU citizens at the centre of its social policy considerations. A distinction was made between different population groups during their differing life cycle. This allowed them to define what combination of social services, income support and supporting regulations would be needed to be able to realise effective social protection and well-being during their lifetimes. The report emphasised that some challenges are important in all stages of life, such as being cared for in the event of illness. However, most needs vary according to the life cycle and require appropriately-targeted social protection policies.

Starting strong: participation from childhood

Under this heading, the report emphasised that the long-term benefits of investing heavily in social cohesion and education during early childhood as well as the subsequent school phase. The best possible educational and participation opportunities for all children and adolescents are essential for ensuring prosperity and social protection in the future. At the same time, early interventions would also make an important contribution to maintaining intergenerational contract. The young would benefit from investments in education and social participation. They would then support the social protection benefits for older people during their working lives.

Financing the social investments

One of the tasks given to the expert group was to consider sustainable social protection financing. The report emphasised the importance of continued growth and higher labour force participation rates, especially amongst older people. Whereas a recommendation for a blanket increase of the standard retirement age limit was not proposed, the importance of integrative labour markets as well as prevention was emphasised.

Revised framework for the Maastricht criteria

A revised framework for the Maastricht criteria covering public debt was proposed at European level. According to this proposal, expenditure on social investments should no longer to be taken into consideration as part of a deficit procedure. The attendant Social Affairs ministers from Spain, José Luis Escrivá, and Belgium, Frank Vandenbroucke, took up this issue during the discussion. During the forthcoming council presidencies of Spain, in the second half of 2023, and Belgium, in the first half of 2024, the European Commission and the relevant committees from the member states will be working on the definition and operationalisation of social investment.