Session 3: EU Social Policies
The aim of the third session was to investigate the standards of a social model in Europe. Speakers for this session included Joan Francesc Pont, Vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce of Barcelona; Denis Stokkink, President of Pour la Solidarité; and Xavier Prats-Monné, Deputy Director-General for Education and Culture at the European Commission. The session was moderated by Stavroula-Ina Piperaki, Doctor in pharmacy, international business consultant and representative of a NGO within the Bureau of European Policy Advisers of the European Commission. The most heated debate of the session centered on the responsibility of the European Institutions and especially, of the European Commission for not adopting and applying the social aspect of the market economy.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]Ina Piperaki stated that communication between citizens and their governors needs to be improved[/su_pullquote] Ina Piperaki commenced the discussion with an introduction about the common concern of the session, which was the need to create a sustainable, democratic and participative European Governance and a new social model, which would take into account the needs of all European citizens and would be based on the founding principles of the EU: dignity, freedom, equality, social cohesion and solidarity.
She underlined that in order to accomplish equal participation of all European citizens in this European Project, a model of a new political and social era was necessary where obstacles and problems raised by the economic and moral crisis, such as inequalities of welfare between the North and the South of Europe and between different socio-economic groups, would be eradicated, while communication between citizens and their governors would be improved. In addition, she stressed the importance of voting and participating in the European elections.
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During his address, Joan Francesc Pont pointed out that the perception of the EU was important and in order to make a better Europe we needed to address the negative aspects. Despite this, there is a difference between what the EU is and what it is becoming. He proposed not to argue on the concept of Europe, but on specific policies, otherwise the political union and the possibility of European republic, fade. He justified his thesis by reminding that anything mankind had obtained has been as a result of an association aiming for progress.
There is a huge amount of euro-skepticism among many citizens caused by the consequences of economic crisis. But he reminded us that we should focus on going ahead in the European integration process rather than trying to destroy it. He suggested improving the hostile atmosphere using the principles of a “good republic” -freedom, equality and solidarity-. These were only possible under a strong respect for law and the promotion of effective regulations.
[su_pullquote]Joan Francesc Pont claimed that unification in a common system of laws for the EU is more important than ever[/su_pullquote]Rules should be equal to everyone and set limit on power. He claimed that unification in a common system of laws for the EU is more important than ever. He also stated that we had to limit uncertainty and highlighted that leadership, governance and solid links among the nations were necessary in order to create a better Europe for all. He concluded his statement by propounding that in order to develop satisfaction and comfort within Europe, except for legislation, lobbying should promote the aim of greater respect to the European Parliament. In addition, it should be shown to citizens that the recovery of this situation is a first priority and we should work together towards this goal.
This optimistic view, as Ina Piperaki commented, was followed by a “provocative” one. Denis Stokkink after emphasizing the citizens’ responsibility and the responsibility to vote, he stressed the responsibility of the European Commission to invigorate social inclusion policies in the second part of his speech. He stated that the social model of the EU has historically had two stems: the economic growth, which is based on internal market, and the social progress, which is based on social protection and this has also been encompassed in the Lisbon Treaty.
[su_pullquote]Denis Stokkink thinks that social protection has lessened its weight and that was the basis of the social crisis[/su_pullquote]Nevertheless, social protection has lessened its weight and that was the basis of the social crisis. Apart from this negative aspect, there was also a positive one, which is that all of us had the responsibility to raise social protection at the same level as economic growth, to reach the aim of social market economy in collaboration with the European Institutions. Another point he mentioned was that the crisis we are facing was caused by the growth of inequalities, rather than financial growth which was only a consequence of them.
In his view, since poverty could be fought by economic and social policy, social inclusion policies are necessary. In this context, it is important how structure funds are used. History has shown that solidarity combined with economic intelligence is the solution to overpass the debt crisis (1953- London Agreement). The new European economic- social model can be “built” on what is already written in the Treaty, but with the two aspects -the social and the economic-at the same level.
Limits of the EU action in the social field
At the closing of this session, Xavier Prats-Monné from the European Commission took the word. He started with the fact that there are limits to what the EU can do in the social field. The treaties establish that the scope of work in this field is not that broad. So this is one of the reasons why the EU has not done much on social policies in Europe. [su_pullquote align=”right”]The treaties establish that the scope of work in the social policies field is not that broad, according to Xavier Prats-Monné[/su_pullquote]Another reason is the complexity of the question. It is not the same to take common decisions on market, tax and duty policy or external policy, as to take decisions on social policies which are so closely related to the states and its citizens.
Mr. Prats-Monné underlined some other problems that contributed to the social model problems in Europe and these are the globalisation, the development of the technology and the demographic problems. These are problems that do not depend only on the EU or the states but also on external factors. In his opinion, the solution could mainly be human capital. More human capital and more education. He stated that we should give the skills to this human capital so we can face the problems of the 21st century.
[su_heading]Rapporteurs: Amalia Athanasiou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens) & Petar Dimov (Pompeu Fabra University, Spain). Edited by the Plus Europe Association.[/su_heading]