Commentary european social charter: the fairy tale of social europe

A "social pillar" in Europe is long overdue. But the EU Commission’s proposals are at best a fig leaf.

EU Commission President Juncker: in search of a social Europe Photo: ap

The EU Commission has presented its plans for a "social pillar" in Europe. This is long overdue. Jacques Delors had already promised a social Europe when he introduced the single market in the 1990s. The opening and liberalization of national markets had to be accompanied and cushioned by social policy, so the theory went.

In practice, however, the European Union did not deliver. It allowed itself to be carried away by the neoliberal zeitgeist and forgot the social dimension. In the euro crisis, employees and trade unions went on the defensive; social Europe was only a distant dream. The proposals that Jean-Claude Juncker and his Commission have now presented in Brussels will not change that.

Juncker is playing symbolic politics, with which he is clearly aiming at the elections in France and Germany. Above all, the proposal on parental leave comes just at the right time for Berlin – German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles is likely to be pleased with the free support from Brussels.

Yet this proposal hardly goes beyond rules already in force in Germany. The Juncker Commission’s other proposals are even thinner. They do not form a "European pillar of social rights," but at best a fig leaf.

Symbolic policy aims at elections in France and Germany

But this is not enough to overcome the threatening social and political crisis in which Europe finds itself. It is a consequence of the neoliberal policies that were used during the euro crisis for massive social cuts. The EU should change this policy, for example by introducing a Europe-wide minimum wage.

But there is not enough political will to do so. In Sunday speeches, "social Europe" continues to be invoked – most recently at the EU anniversary summit in Rome at the end of March. But after the elections in France and Germany, this will soon be a thing of the past.

The proposals from Brussels do not point to the future. On the contrary, they even contain an option for social cuts. The heads of state and government will not discuss whether this option will be taken until after the elections, presumably at the EU summit in December. Then the EU is likely to show its true, neoliberal face again.