The task of the group was to develop a vision for strengthening European social protection and social systems. To this end, concrete recommendations are to be developed on how the social security systems can be made fit for the future. This also underlines the claim that the EPSR is constantly being further developed and always adapted to new socio-political challenges.
For a year now, high-level experts have been meeting regularly under the chairmanship of the former Greek Minister and EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Anna Diamantopoulou. They mainly discuss the four major megatrends, such as demographic change, transformations on the labour market, digitalisation and globalisation, as well as the emergence of new risks in social protection, climate change and the Green Deal. In addition, the interactions between social protection systems and other socially related policies, such as education, social inclusion, disability, healthcare and long-term care will be taken into account. The short-term challenges that arose as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, such as high inflation and energy shortages will also be included in the analysis. The focus of the High-Level Expert Group is not on short-term effects but on medium to long-term effects. During this period, it is important to develop specific recommendations for action for different phases of life.
As exuberant as the task description reads, this is important for anchoring social protection at the centre of common European policy. The establishment of the High-Level Expert Group links three of the EU’s currently most important thematic areas, namely climate change, the digital decade and the EPSR. Climate change and measures to counteract it, as well as digital change, will have a massive impact on the tasks of social protection and social systems. What is needed here are common goals and strategies at the European level and suggestions on how social protection in Europe can be realistically designed in the future.
European social security systems have grown historically, take national preferences into account and are the results of diverse political, democratically legitimised decisions. The work of the High-Level Expert Group is therefore expected to produce strategies on how the current challenges can be met jointly at the European level. Here Chair Diamantopoulou is to be taken at her word: What is needed are reformed, efficient and future-oriented welfare states that can respond to modern needs. The EPSR can proactively contribute here as a strategic instrument if it is further developed with a view to overcoming the new challenges.
Social security schemes position themselves
Together with 40 social insurance institutions from Europe, the German Social Insurance provided impulses to the High-Level Expert Group in a statement of the European Social Insurance Platform (ESIP). In this context, ESIP emphasises that social insurances protect against many life risks and that this must remain guaranteed even under new challenges. However, ESIP also reminds us that social insurance cannot compensate for all social distortions and inequalities, neither today nor in the future.
ESIP members play a key role in putting the principles into practice for EU citizens, including cross-border situations. However, social security systems also face major long-term challenges that influence each other. Changes in the labour market, the ageing of the population and climate change are putting pressure on society and social security systems. In order to find solutions to these and other future challenges, social policy at the European level and also the EPSR must constantly evolve.