|Since 2000, the annual Bilan social volume has analysed the state of play of social policy in the European Union during the preceding year, the better to forecast developments in the new one. Co-produced by the European Social Observatory (OSE) and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), the new edition is no exception. In the context of multiple crises, the authors find that social policies gained in terms of ambition in 2022. At the same time, the new EU economic framework, expected for 2023, should be made compatible with achieving the EU’s social and ‘green’ objectives. Finally, they raise the question whether the Social Imbalances Procedure (SIP) and the Open Strategic Autonomy (OSA) paradigm could provide windows of opportunity to sustain the EU’s social ambition in the long run. The EU’s annual rate of inflation was 9.6 per cent in June 2022; a year earlier, it was just 2.2 per cent. Unleashed in February 2022, the war in Ukraine has put paid to Europe’s fragile economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, triggering a devastating humanitarian crisis in Europe and sharp rises in food and energy prices, exacerbating global inflationary pressures. |
Despite this stormy background, the EU social ship has reached deeper waters. With the wind of the European Pillar of Social Rights in its sails, important progress has been made on areas including minimum wages, occupational health and safety, the terms and conditions of people working via platforms and gender equality. Furthermore, many social initiatives have seen the light of day under the umbrella of the Recovery and Resilience Facility, promoting social investment, performance-based financing and a just transition that is also green, albeit this has been patchy. The need for a reform of EU governance to promote social progress and the setting up of a SIP On November 9th 2022, the European Commission published a communication illustrating its orientation on a reformed framework of EU economic governance. Such a reform should, however, be accompanied by a significant strengthening of the EU’s social dimension, argue the editors of the Bilan social. As illustrated in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the asymmetry between relatively strong and well-codified EU governance procedures in the fiscal and macroeconomic domains and weaker procedures in the social one represents a threat to social policy in Europe. In this respect, the setting up in 2023 of a so-called EU ‘Social Imbalances Procedure’ (SIP) would be a promising step forward. With the upcoming launch of a pilot scheme to test the practical modalities of such an instrument, a window of opportunity is open. The first months of 2023 will be crucial in avoiding the risk of a watered-down tool which has neither the ambition nor the strength to counterbalance EU fiscal and macroeconomic instruments. The OSA: a new framework for sustaining an ambitious EU social agenda in a context of permacrisis According to the editors, the time is now right to seize the EU’s Open Strategic Autonomy as a window of opportunity for sustaining the EU’s social ambitions. After all, in their strategic agenda for the EU in 2019-24, the heads of state and government did pave the way for a broader notion of strategic autonomy, leading to the European Commission picking up the gauntlet and proposing a much broader paradigm. In June 2022, the ETUC called for an ambitious agenda on OSA, acknowledging it as ‘one of the promising avenues to re-establish a fair and level playing field for a resilient economy, in full respect of EU democratic, social and environmental values’. Such an expanded vision may provide an opportunity for national and European social players to influence the policy agenda, especially through dialogue with the European institutions.