Under the Luxembourg Presidency of the European Union, on 9 and 10 November 2015, in Luxembourg, the Chamber of Deputies organised an Interparliamentary Conference on Stability, Economic Corodination and Governance in the European Union, the organisation of which is provided for in Article 13 of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG).
The first discussion panel, devoted to the social dimension of economic governance, brought together the Minister for Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy, Nicolas Schmit, the Director of the European Social Observatory, Bart Vanhercke, and the Sociologist, Louis Chauvel, Professor at the University of Luxembourg. The first TSCG meeting was held in Vilnius (Lithuania) in October 2013.
The President of the Chamber of Deputies, Mars di Bartolomeo, who gave the opening speech to the conference, recalled that the social dimension of Europe is a priority for the Luxembourg Presidency. He appealed for "re-centring of the European project around the social dimension if we want to avoid a social divide and a disengagement from or even opposition to the European project by our citizens", at a time when Europe is faced with "major social difficulties" such as unemployment, especially among young people, the rise in inequalities, poverty or even material deprivation. "The social dimension should lie at the very heart of all European policy", he declared, calling for each European action, directive and regulation to be "evaluated in light of the social dimension".
"Jobs should be at the heart of our policies"
The Minister for Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy, Nicolas Schmit, raised the issue of Europe's democratic legitimacy. For him, this is the weakest point of the European project because citizens "get lost in European economic policies". The Minister called for a renewal of social dialogue, because the European project is a "political project which requires the support of the European people and citizens". Yet, this project has many "overly technical, excessively technocratic" aspects, he stated. The consequence of this is that opponents to European integration monopolise the debate and repoliticise it by default.
"Therefore, it is urgent to take back possession of the true political dimension of Europe", especially at a time when "the economic crisis has made way for a social crisis", in which economic and social convergence has made way for growing divergence", declared the Minister. Although real progress has been made thanks to solidarity instruments such as the European Stability Mechanism, the Banking Union, and the EMU, the Minister appealed for the implementation of "true socio-economic governance".
For Nicolas Schmit, it is necessary to relaunch productive investment in order to boost growth, promote competitiveness and reboot innovation. However, it is also necessary to relaunch social investments", the impact of which on social cohesion, employment and innovation, as well as on economic competitiveness, is considerable". The issue of employment should be placed at the heart of our policies because employment "is not an adjustment variable".
The Minister highlighted the need for a "European budget better focused on real needs" in order to carry out reforms in this context. He again appealed for the establishment of a political decision-making body (a social Eurogroup, the first issue of which was held on the sidelines of the EPSCO Council of 5 October 2015), the definition of an economic policy for the Eurozone "which goes beyond the mere juxtaposition of national policies", the creation of mechanisms for debate and democratic control and proper impetus for renewed social dialogue.
A study on the social dimension of the European Semester
Bart Vanhercker, the Director of the European Social Observatory, then presented the interim report of a study on the social dimension of the European Semester, which he prepared with Jonathan Zeitlin, Professor at Amsterdam University, on the initiative of the Chamber of Deputies. The study helped to highlight the fact that the social dimension has been "partial but progressive" in the years 2011-2014 of the European Semester.
The 2015 cycle of the Semester saw the introduction of a certain number of innovations, such as the reduction in the number of country-specific recommendations (CSR), on the initiative of the Juncker Commission, which also marked a closer link between social inclusion and employability. Although, ultimately, there are fewer CSR concerning social aspects and employment, the decline of social CSR is less clear, declared Bart Vanhercker. Social aspects are "mainstreamed" in other recommendations, he indicated.
In conclusion, the study appealed, in particular, for the CSR to not be overly normative and take account of European objectives and values as a whole (horizontal social clause).
"Ten years after EU enlargement, what we are missing is depth"
The Sociologist Louis Chauvel, Professor at the University of Luxembourg and a specialist in inequalities between generations and social classes, focused his presentation on the sustainability of the European socio-economic project and "the deep and increasingly persistent challenges of a social Europe".
Although in the Europe of 6 and of 15, there was still a salaried middle class and the central question was the construction of a Welfare State, the agenda of the Europe of 28 is "much more complex", explained the speaker. "This implies that the preliminary bases of good socio-economic governance are increasingly underachieved", he declared. As an example, he cited the problems of the ageing population, "demographic marginalisation", retirement pensions and healthcare systems. Thus, according to Louis Chauvel, the Europe of 28 has become a new socio-economic phenomenon, a new phenomenon in terms of economic inequalities, with no solution found as yet. The sociologist concluded by stating that "enlargement has been a good thing", but that "ten years later, what we are missing is depth".