Remarks by Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis on the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and Effective Active Support to Employment following the COVID-19 crisis

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 4 maart 2021.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Our experience with the pandemic has reinforced the importance of many European values.

Above all, it has demonstrated the need for unity, solidarity and support for those most in need.

The social impact of the crisis has been immense - on incomes, jobs and families. Together, the EU institutions and Member States have made unprecedented efforts to cushion everyone from the worst effects of the crisis.

Take the SURE initiative. Short-time work schemes have been effective in maintaining employment through the pandemic and should remain in place where needed.

They have been enormously valuable in helping EU countries and people through their immediate problems.

However, as we prepare to move from crisis-fighting to policies to support the recovery, we should go further still.

A strong social Europe must be at the heart of a fair, inclusive and resilient recovery, backed by strong economic fundamentals.

This is the aim of today's action plan: to make sure the European Pillar of Social Rights, with its 20 principles, becomes a reality for everyone in their daily lives.

The plan should be a foundation to:

  • promote more and better job opportunities;
  • support entrepreneurs and help them take better care of their employees;
  • invest in high-quality and inclusive education, training, skills and innovation;
  • and focus on improving living and working conditions for those who need them most.

So how do we go about achieving this?

The action plan presents new targets for employment, skills and social protection.

They build on the Europe 2020 targets and help focus our joint efforts towards 2030. They are also consistent with the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Nicolas will give you more details, but I will just outline the thinking behind the targets.

First, on employment:

Here, despite the EU's best efforts, the pandemic has halted a six-year positive trend.

We urgently need quality job creation - particularly for young people, where as a result of the crisis, the rise in unemployment was triple that of the general unemployment rate.

By 2030, at least 78% of the working-age population should have jobs.

Then, we will look at how to support companies and workers facing new realities. We must invest more in training and skills development - especially in digital skills.

This is important for addressing the skills shortages that affect the key economic sectors and are holding back economic growth. By 2030, at least 60% of adults should undertake training every year.

Lastly, we need to do more to fight against rising inequality, social exclusion and poverty. Europe should be able to offer equal opportunities for its next generations.

While poverty and social exclusion have fallen in the EU over the last decade, the pandemic is making the situation worse. Our target is to lift 15 million people out of poverty by 2030.

Reaching these targets will be a shared responsibility - involving Member States, regional and local authorities as well as social partners and civil society.

Our action plan reflects this need for a broad engagement, with EU-wide initiatives along with invitations to Member States and social partners to act at their level.

The European Semester will remain the main instrument for guiding Member States' policies and monitoring their progress.

It will also make sure that each country puts adequate reforms and investments in place to reach the social targets in time.

This will involve updating the Social Scoreboard, which will include new indicators such as adult learning, child poverty and the disability employment gap.

The Commission is also ready to help with technical assistance to help countries to improve their administrative capacity to carry out reforms and meet the targets.

We will continue to provide such assistance in many EU countries, in areas such as inclusion of people with disabilities, reducing the gender employment gap and with reforms to integrate migrants and refugees in labour markets and society.

Ladies and gentlemen

Today, the Commission has also published a recommendation on Effective Active Support for Employment, or EASE. It has two important messages:

  • First, the need for a gradual transition from emergency measures into recovery policies for EU labour markets.
  • Secondly, that there is ample EU funding available to support Member States with EASE measures. I refer in particular to the European Social Fund+, but - importantly - also the funding under the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

The recommendation asks Member States to develop coherent policy packages that combine temporary and permanent measures to address labour market challenges caused by the pandemic.

This should reflect three elements:

  • hiring and transition incentives;
  • initiatives to boost up-skilling and re-skilling;
  • improvement of employment services.

All complemented by reforms in line with the country-specific recommendations.

Finally, we should not forget how important the Recovery and Resilience Facility will be in supporting labour markets and strengthening our social fabric through the recovery phase.

With €672.5 billion available in grants and loans, the RRF will provide large-scale financial support to reduce economic and social divergences across EU countries.

Thank you for your attention and I pass the floor to Nicolas.