European Pillar of Social Rights and the European Semester Process’s Toolkit
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 . 1 What is the European Pillar of Social Rights (Pillar)?
The Pillar is a set of 20 principles and rights of non-legally binding nature. The aim of the principles of the Pillar is to strengthen the social dimension of the EU while increasing the quality of working and living conditions among participating Member States. The Pillar encourages Member States to update their social and employment standards and laws in order to reflect the new realities of work and daily lives.
The Pillar was adopted in April 2017. Its principles and rights address three main areas: equal opportunities and access to labour markets; fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion. It includes a principle (No 17) on the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Find out more about the European Pillar of Social Rights here:
2. How do the principles of the Pillar work and what is their status?
The principles and rights are addressed to the citizens of the EU.
Currently, the Pillar does not have a legally binding status. It is a recommendation by the European Commission, and its implementation is the joint responsibility of the Member States, in close cooperation with the social partners and with the support and contribution of the EU.
3. How to put the Social Pillar into practice?
The Pillar can be put into practice, if future policies, laws, recommendations, other legislative and non-legislative initiatives and budget plans at EU and national levels respect and mainstream the principles listed in the Pillar.
For example, the European Commission, in addition to proposing the Pillar, has already proposed a number of legislative and non-legislative initiatives related to work-life balance, access to social protection, working time and others. On the national level, Member States should also propose initiatives that aim at implementing the principles of the Pillar.
Moreover, the principles of the Pillar have the potential to influence and support the European Semester process (for more information on this process, see chapter 2). The objective is for some of the principles and objectives of the Pillar to be taken up in the form of (country-specific) recommendations from the European level to Member States, therefore supporting the mainstreaming of the principles of the Pillar in national law and practices.
4. Channels through which the principles of the Pillar can be implemented
The Pillar provides momentum to promote various reforms that foster cohesion, equality, participation and inclusion.
The EU supports the implementation of the Pillar’s principles through several channels:
2) Guidance (EU Semester process)
Several related legislative and non-legislative initiatives contributing to the implementation of the principles of the Social Pillar at EU level had already been launched before the proposal was proclaimed:
- The European Accessibility Act;
- The ‘New start for social dialogue’;
- The Youth Guarantee.
Together with the launch of the Social Pillar, the European Commission also produced:
- Proposal on work-life balance with minimum standards for parental, paternity and carer’s leave, which is currently in trilogue negotiations between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU;
- A communication on the Working Time Directive;
- Proposals revising the rules on the posting of workers in the European Union;
- Proposal for a revision of regulation 883/2004 modernising the coordination of social security systems;
- New skills agenda to equip more people with better skills;
- Revision of various pieces of legislation in the field of occupational health and safety, and addressing access to affordable, preventive and curative health care.
Other proposals were launched after the proclamation of the Pillar, including:
- The social fairness package with a proposal for a Council recommendation for social protection for all ;
- New proposal for transparent and predictable working conditions;
- Proposal to move towards a European education area to make high- quality, inclusive education accessible to all.
Decisions regarding the future EU budget (the so-called Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF)will have a major impact on the level of support that the implementation of the Social Pillar will receive at EU and national levels.
Several funding programmes support social priorities as well as policies relating to the labour market and education.
The most relevant funding programmes are:
- The European Social Fund+;
- The Cohesion Fund;
- The European Regional Development Fund.
Mainstreaming of the Pillar can be carried out through all stages of the European Semester process, ensuring that the Pillar’s principles are systematically put into practice and monitored. In particular they must be visible in country reports and country-specific recommendations (see Chapter 2 for more information).
5. How is the implementation of the Pillar monitored? The Social Scoreboard.
Alongside the Pillar, the European Commission also put forward a Social Scoreboard with 12 headline indicators to monitor progress with regards to the Pillar’s implementation.
The scoreboard will be instrumental in strengthening the social aspects of the EU’s economic governance. These indicators from the Social Scoreboard can also be used in the European Semester process.
According to the European Commission, the principles and rights established in the Pillar will be evaluated as part of the future European Semester cycles and some specific themes regarding the Pillar will be assessed more in detail.
Although the Social Scoreboard does not cover all 20 principles of the Pillar, it can be a key tool for informing and reinforcing the social dimension of the European Semester process by providing clear social indicators and data.
For people with disabilities, the Social Scoreboard includes important indicators such as risk of poverty or social exclusion; early school-leavers; income inequality; unemployment rate; activity rate; youth unemployment rate; share of long-term unemployment, and others. The Social Scoreboard is therefore also a useful tool for monitoring Member States’ progress in creating effective links between the European Semester process and the Pillar by improving the situation of persons with disabilities in their countries.
Figure 1: The Social Scoreboard
6. The Social Scoreboard and the European Semester: Monitoring EU countries' performance in light of the Social Pillar
The Social Scoreboard is available in all EU languages:
Based on real-life data, it allows you to:
- Look at EU Member States’ performances on social issues over time;
- Measure and monitor the progress in achieving convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe
- Compare the performance of each of the 28 Member States at a given moment in time
- Create your own graphs, tables and maps. The Scoreboard and its indicators can help you to find out how your country is performing. Data available allows you to select your country and to get a detailed overview of its situation regarding the different indicators. This official data can be useful for your advocacy work on the national level while informing your governments what changes are needed in social policies.
CHAPTER 2 . 7. What is the European Semester process?
Introduced in 2010, the European Semester is an annual cycle of policy coordination at European level. It is a tool that coordinates Member States’ economic policies throughout the year. It addresses the economic challenges in different Member States and provides them with a set of recommendations for the following 12-18 months.
The European Semester process was designed especially to coordinate national efforts to achieve the targets of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Indeed, it is an important process for monitoring the targets of this strategy (the so-called Europe 2020 targets) and is closely linked to the implementation of Pillar.
The European Semester process provides stakeholders with an opportunity to reach out to policy-makers at EU and national levels with insights on how to improve the rights of persons with disabilities and in order to strengthen the social dimension of the EU.
Goals of the European Semester:
- ensuring sound public finances (avoiding excessive government debt);
- preventing excessive macroeconomic imbalances in the EU;
- supporting structural reforms;
- creating more jobs and growth;
- boosting investment.
While the European Semester process has a strong economic focus, the Europe 2020 targets were designed to reflect the fact that economic growth needs to be ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive’. Therefore, in the framework of this process efforts in the social policy field at national level are coordinated as well.
8. How does it work?
The annual cycle of policy coordination starts in November. The cycle ends in October of the following year. All three EU institutions are involved in the process, with the European Commission and the Council of the EU being the most important actors at EU level.
Role of the European Commission
Each year, the Commission:
- Undertakes a detailed analysis of each country’s plans for its budget, macroeconomic and structural reforms.
- Provides EU governments with country-specific recommendations for the next 12-18 months.
Role of the Council of the EU:
The European Commission proposals are endorsed and formally adopted by the Council.
9. Timeline of the European Semester process
The autumn package in November kicks off the annual cycle of coordination. The Commission sets out general economic priorities for the EU and provides EU countries with policy guidance for the following year.
The autumn package includes:
The European Commission issues an annual growth survey and alert mechanism report for the upcoming year.
The Commission’s Annual Growth Survey sets out the general economic priorities for the EU and offers EU governments policy guidance for the following year.
The alert mechanism report is a screening device, based on a scoreboard of indicators, which identifies countries that may be affected by economic imbalances and for which the European Commission should undertake further in-depth reviews.
The European Commission and the Council of the EU publishes other relevant preparatory works that set out general economic priorities for the EU and provides EU countries with policy guidance for the following year.
 For more information: https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/2018-european-semester-annual-growth-survey_en
 For more information: https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/2018-european-semester-alert-mechanism-report_en
 For more information: https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/economic-and-fiscal-policy-coordination/eu-economic-governance-monitoring-prevention-correction/european-semester/european-semester-timeline/setting-priorities_en
9.2. Policy Guidance
The Council of the EU debates the Annual Growth Survey, sets out overall policy guidelines and adopts conclusions.
It also discusses, modifies if necessary, and approves the draft Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area.
The European Parliament also discusses the Annual Growth Survey and can publish its own initiative report. It also issues an opinion on employment guidelines.
9.3. Country Reports
The European Commission publishes Country Reports on the overall economic and social developments in each EU country. For some countries, these include an in-depth review.
The reports cover all areas of macroeconomic or social importance and take stock of the country’s situation. They assess the progress made by each EU country in addressing the issues identified and highlighted in the previous year’s EU recommendations.
The Member States are invited to consider the findings of the country reports when preparing their national stability or convergence programmes and national reform programmes.
9.4. National Reform Programmes
All EU countries submit their national policy plans in the form of two documents: the National Reform Programmes and the Stability/Convergence Programmes:
- The Stability and Convergence Programmes outline the Member States’ medium-term budgetary strategy;
- The National Reform Programmes outline Member States’ structural reform plans, focused on promoting growth and employment.
The Member States are expected to submit these programmes by the 15th of April, and by the end of April at the latest.
The programmes detail the specific policies each country will implement to boost jobs and growth and prevent/correct imbalances. They also state the governments’ concrete plans to comply with the EU’s country-specific recommendations and general fiscal rules.
9.5. Country-specific Recommendations
Having assessed the EU governments’ plans, the European Commission presents each country with country-specific recommendations (CSRs), along with an overarching communication document. The country-specific recommendations provide policy guidance tailored to each EU country on how to boost jobs and growth, while maintaining sound public finances, focusing on objectives that can realistically be achieved over the next 12-18 months.
The recommendations adapt priorities identified at EU level in the Europe 2020 strategy).
The recommendations are discussed among the governments represented in the Council of the EU, endorsed by EU leaders at a summit in June and are formally adopted by the national finance ministers in July.
9.6. Putting recommendation into practice: national semester
During the remaining 6 months of the year, sometimes called ‘the national semester’, the Member States consider the recommendations when drawing up national budgets for the following year.
National governments incorporate the recommendations into their reform plans and national budgets for the following year.
The Commission assesses these plans against the requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact, which is a set of rules designed to ensure that countries in the EU pursue sound public finances and coordinate their fiscal policies. The Commission issues a formal opinion on each plan in November, so that its guidance can be considered when national budgets are finalised.
The Member States adopt their national budgets at the end of the year.
9.7. Beginning of the next cycle
The cycle starts again towards the end of the year, when the European Commission gives again an overview of the economic situation in its Annual Growth Survey for the coming year.
The Commission begins looking into the progress achieved by individual countries in implementing the recommendations they have received.
Figure 2: Calendar of the European Semester process
10. Social Pillar and the European Semester
Policy guidance and recommendations on the proposed 20 policy principles of the Social Pillar can be pursued through the European Semester process, since building a fairer Europe and strengthening its social dimension are key priorities at the moment.
As mentioned above, the Pillar is accompanied by a ‘Social Scoreboard’, which tracks trends and performances across EU countries in areas related to the principles of the Pillar.
The Pillar can influence the output of the European Semester process, especially the Country Reports, Country-specific Recommendations, National Reform Programmes and the Stability and Convergence Programmes.
Especially, while drafting Country Reports and Country-specific recommendation, the Commission can focus on the principles of the Social Pillar. This is where NADs can provide input, data, information and arguments that highlight specific social challenges that people face! You can use the social scoreboard to assess to which degree people face social challenges in your country.
11. How can NADs engage in practice?
Civil society plays an important role in providing the institutions involved in the European Semester process with up-to-date data and information about the challenges at national, regional and local level; as well as practical recommendations. NADs that wish to engage, should take the following steps and provide EUD with relevant information so that it can be passed on to the relevant officials at the European Commission:
NADs have an opportunity to provide input to Country reports. Input from the ground can help to make the Semester process more in line with the realities in a particular country. What to do? Follow these steps:
- Observe the timeline described to see if you have a time to engage in the process. Your input is needed before the Country Reports are published! This means that we must receive your input before mid- December at the latest in order to make sure that the European Commission can assess it before publishing the reports in March!
- If you still have time to write input to the Country Report, use the social scoreboard to identify particular challenges faced in your country that would require changes and reforms in your national systems. Identify the right social challenges that people with disabilities face. Only then the correct policy measures to address these challenges could potentially be promoted through Country-Specific Recommendations. Keep in mind, that even if your input will be published in the Country Report, this does not guarantee that it will be transformed into a Country-Specific Recommendation later, as these are very limited and usually quite general. However, big issues that are not included in Country-Specific Recommendations might be included in the Country Report. Other official statistics can be used to support your arguments.
- Identify which principles of the Pillar the existing challenges link to. According to the European Commission, the principles and rights enshrined in the Social Pillar will be assessed as part of the future European Semester cycles and some specific themes related to the Pillar will be assessed more in detail.
- Send your insights and inputs to EUD’s policy team.
- EUD will forward the input to the relevant officials at the European Commission.
You can contact EUD at any time to discuss your involvement!