The Commission unveiled the first set of initiatives for a European Pillar of Social Rights – a key promise of Juncker’s presidency – in a statement delivered at the European Parliament today.

The Social Pillar sets out 20 key principles around three categories: (1) equal opportunities and access to the labour market, (2) fair working conditions and (3) social protection and inclusion.

Last January, the Parliament debated its own proposals for what the pillar should include, with GUE/NGL demanding concrete policies that establish new social rights, social investment and social standards.

Reacting to the proposals, GUE/NGL President and Shadow Rapporteur Gabi Zimmer said that the Commission’s proposals are a “true disappointment”: 

“Instead of an urgently needed and genuine Pillar of Social Rights that take precedence over the needs of the market, the Commission published a mere social etiquette manual without legal consequences.”

“People want a 180-degree turn from an EU that is in crisis and socially divided and facing the danger of an extremist far-right knocking at the doors of the Élysée Palace.”

Speaking in plenary, GUE/NGL MEP Rina Ronja Kari argued that austerity policies played a role in the erosion of social rights and therefore must be rolled back:

“Citizens are experiencing many social problems such as poverty, inequality and unemployment, particular among youth. But it is important to recognise that austerity policies and the European Semester played a role and lead to the erosion of social security, affecting negatively our societies.”

“We must break from austerity and ensure a budget is available to support social policies and the fight against unemployment. Member states must be allowed to invest in welfare and their social security systems or else we will lose the trust of the people.”

Meanwhile, Portuguese MEP João Pimenta criticised the proposals as weakening the rights of workers:

“The Commission’s proposals are an example of how its usual firmness when imposing sanctions and political impositions against sovereign member states suddenly goes missing when the interests of workers and citizens are at stake.”

“The truth is – as reality will show – that the strategies presented, of alleged social nature, are means to lower the rights of workers and citizens. The proposals in the field of maternity, paternity and parenthood are an example of this,” Pimenta continued.  

“The Commission completely ignored the Parliament’s proposals for an increase in the period of leave and for paid leave without loss of income, fuelling instead inequality between men and women and social inequality. The proposed measures guarantee that the mechanisms for exploitation and impoverishment of workers are perpetuated.”

Finally, Greek MEP Kostadinka Kuneva called for more robust proposals:

“The Commission offers part-time work for working parents for up to 12 years without mentioning that this is low-paid and precarious employment. Is this the kind of Social Pillar Juncker wants?”

 “If the Commission really aims to achieve work-life balance for European citizens and to support working parents it should approve the draft directive on maternity leave.”

“Instead of these whitewash proposals we need a 20-week maternity leave, the establishment of paternity leave, reduction of work hours without reducing wages and better conditions for children,” Kuneva concluded.   

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