EU Commission unveils ′pillar′ of social rights protection to fight populists | News | DW | 26.04.2017
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Social policy

EU Commission unveils 'pillar' of social rights protection to fight populists

Protective "social pillars" for the EU's 508 million residents to deflate populist jibes have been unveiled by the EU's executive. Measures include work or training rights for young jobless and EU-wide paternity leave.

Deutschland Berlin Demonstration zu Jugenarbeitslosigkeit in Osteuropa (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini)

Berlin, 2013: Youth demand end to joblessness and secure, long-term contracts in Europe

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker's executive presented its 20-item initiative Wednesday as a nervous France readied for its second-stage presidential election on May 7.

Centrist, pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron faces the far-right's anti-EU Marine Le Pen, who wants French citizens to be given precedence to the exclusion of outsiders.

Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen of Belgium said social policy was at the "top of peoples' minds amid France's election campaign."

Belgien Brüssel - Jean Claude Juncker und Marianne Thyssen (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Hoslet)

Juncker with Social Commissioner Thyssen

"What we have to do is regain the trust of the people in the institutions," Thyssen said.

Aside from documents such as the EU's Fundamental Charta, pan-EU social standards are rare as such measures are largely the prerogative of individual EU member nations.

"I have been seeking to put social priorities at the heart of Europe's work, where they belong," said Juncker, whose executive wants the package endorsed by EU leaders by December. Juncker set off the initial process of gathering public input on what the social rights pillar should address in 2015.

Family policies

The Commission's initiative, entitled "pillar of social rights" would seek to anchor access to life-long learning, "fair" wages, better compatibility of work and family, secure old-age care, and provision of infrastructure such as digital communications.

Parents across Europe would have the right to at least four months leave. Working fathers of newborns would get at least 10 days holiday, paid at sick benefit rates.

Five days of carers' leave per year would also be granted to workers in the EU to take care of dependent relatives.

'First small step'

Reactions initially were mixed: The German EKD Protestant Church's Brussels bureau said a social rights pillar was a first small step toward social parity in Europe. Trade unions and leftist groups said it did not go far enough.

The employers group BusinessEurope said extending parental leave rights beyond existing laws was too expensive.

"Many member states simply cannot afford to grant sickness pay levels to people taking parental leave," said its president, Emma Marcegaglia.

Infografik Jugendliche Europa EU ENG

Stay in EU, urge youth

The EU Commission presented its proposals as unilateral recommendations and acknowledged that some member nations already provided such measures.

Germany, for example, protects jobs when fathers and mothers combined take up to 36 months parental leave. Parents in Germany can also split 14 months of leave while receiving two-thirds of their regular pay.

Scoreboard shows glaring disparities

The Commission, however, also highlighted glaring disparitiesusing is so-called Social Scoreboard, including data on wealth and opportunities for advancement.

The EU's richest 20 percent of households earn over five times as much as the poorest 20 percent. One in four Europeans faces the risk of becoming impoverished or socially excluded.

Joblessness sidelines 20 percent of all of Europe's young adults up to the age of 24. And, among EU citizens without training only one in two had work.

Many EU residents still lack computer and internet skills. According to 2015 figures, 45 percent of them had not basic knowledge about the digital world.

ipj/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters, epd)

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