Important step towards a more social Europe

Opinion piece published in Svenska Dagbladet 17 November, by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

On Friday 17 November 2017, the Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth will be held in Gothenburg, Sweden. As hosts, we have both long argued that the European Union should put greater emphasis on improving the living and working conditions of our citizens. This is the first Social Summit in 20 years and a meeting unique in its kind, as it brings together Heads of State or Government from EU Member States, leaders of the EU institutions as well as social partners and civil society.

Europe has faced many challenges over the last decade. The financial crisis had a major impact on our economies and our social fabric. Unemployment, poverty and inequality had reached unacceptably high levels across Europe, and we have seen growing concern among individuals and rising distrust of political solutions, paving the way for xenophobia and populism. At the same time, digitalisation and globalisation, as well as new lifestyles and an ageing population, are changing the very way we live and work.

To put all this into perspective, there are now more adults over the age of 65 than children younger than 14. Most kids starting school today are likely to end up working in jobs that do not yet even exist. Some 40 per cent of employers already report that they are unable to find people with the skills they need. This shows that new opportunities are being created, but that new challenges are also emerging.

Thanks to determined action, Europe is now slowly but steadily turning the page: average growth in the EU is back above 2 per cent, more than 8 million jobs have been created over the last three years, unemployment is down to a nine-year low and employment levels are reaching an all-time high.

To further restore trust and hope in the future, EU Member States and institutions need to show resolve and commitment. We have to deliver concrete results and improve people's everyday lives. We are engaged in a sincere debate on the future of the EU, launched at the Bratislava Summit last year and shaped by the European Commission's White Paper earlier this year. Throughout the course of this debate, we have made it crystal clear that a fairer and more social Europe must be the lifeblood of our Union.

The responsibility for this starts locally, regionally and nationally – and should include social partners at all levels in Europe. The EU has an important part to play to support these efforts, as shown by the European Commission's determination to put social priorities and social fairness at the core of everything it does.

The momentum is clearly there. We are pleased to see that a first agreement could be reached on the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive, constituting an important step in enforcing the principle of equal pay for equal work.

And a few weeks ago, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council agreed on the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar sets out 20 principles for better living and working conditions for Europe's citizens. It is a shared commitment to the values and rights we all stand for – from equality to social protection, from fair working conditions to lifelong learning. The proclamation of the Pillar at the Gothenburg Summit will be an important step towards a more social Europe.

The Summit will be a key moment for the debate on the future of Europe. We will focus on how to improve access to the labour market and get more people into work – especially women, where progress is too slow. We will discuss how to ensure fair jobs and decent working conditions – also for new forms of work – across our continent. We will look at how to ensure that transitions and mobility are better managed in our Union, including by equipping people with the right skills so that they can succeed in successive jobs throughout a career. At the end of the Summit, EU leaders will also discuss the future of education and culture in the EU.

The Europe we are working for is a Europe that puts peoples' concerns and interests first. In Gothenburg, we will aim to anchor essential values and priorities – such as inclusive growth, fair working conditions and a strong social dialogue – firmly to the future of our European Union. This is what the citizens of Europe expect from us.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker