On the 19th of March EUD participated at the second strategic dialogue meeting on the European Semester organised by Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) of the European Commission (EC or the Commission). The first strategic dialogue meeting on the EU Semester and its role while implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR or Social Pillar or the Pillar) took place in the end of 2017. This time the meeting focused on how to mainstream the European Pillar of Social Rights through the Country Reports and Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), which are published during the EU Semester process.
The European Semester is a cycle of fiscal and economic policy coordination within the EU. It has a clear timeline – each year in November and December the preparatory phase begins. During preparatory phase the Commission issues an annual growth survey and alert mechanism report presenting its view of EU policy priorities for the coming year. Alert mechanism report reviews macroeconomic developments in individual EU member states.
In March the first phase of the EU Semester, called policy guidance on the EU level, begins. The policy guidance is done through Country Reports, which the Commission publishes for all member states participating in the EU Semester. The Country Reports include in-depth reviews of macroeconomic imbalances in member states. Based on these reviews, the Commission may draft recommendations to the member states to correct imbalances that are identified.
The second phase of the EU Semester starts in April. During the second phase, the member states submit their policy plans – stability and convergence programmes and national reform programmes. In May, the European Commission evaluates national policy plans and presents draft Country-Specific Recommendations. Later, the Council of the EU adopts the Country-Specific Recommendations, and the member states are expected to implement them.
During the strategic dialogue meeting participants discussed how the Social Pillar can feed into the EU Semester process. It was explained that Country Reports can put a special emphasis on mainstreaming the principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Country Reports can focus on addressing important issues in Member States such as – skills challenges, absence of safety nets, low wages, poverty and social exclusion and others. Data from the Social Scoreboard can also be used to keep track of employment and social performances. Moreover, the Country Reports assess Member States’ progress in tackling their main economic and social challenges and in implementing past CSRs. If country reports focused more on issues occurring on social dimension, more CSRs to tackle these issues would be adopted, which would encourage member states to address these issues. However, it cannot be forgotten that the EU Semester is an instrument to foster economic growth and to prevent excessive macroeconomic imbalances in the EU, therefore social issues might not always be its main priority. Still, the European Semester process is an excellent opportunity to track the performance how the Member States deliver the principles and rights included in the Pillar.