The one-day-conference on “A Social Agenda for the New European Actors”, co-organised by the Research Initiative North Rhine-Westphalia in Europe (FINE) of Düsseldorf University, was opened by the NRW European Affairs Minister Angelica Schwall-Düren. The conference aimed to address different concerns such as youth unemployment, the social scoreboard within the European Semester and European unemployment insurance.
The Minister stressed that the internal market needs to come in parallel with adequate social measures and, that austerity measures must not undermine the social acquis if Europe want to avoid losing the trust of its citizens. Social systems in the Member States have suffered due to budget cuts.
Many speakers and participants agreed that, although measures against youth unemployment have been established – such as the Youth Guarantee – their implementation in different member states varies and largely remains insufficient. In addition to short term measures, it was advocated that real structural reforms in accordance with Member States’ structures and traditions need to take place as well.
On the issue of the social scoreboard that has been integrated into the European Semester, participants agreed that indicators are good for the visibility of the impact of the crisis on the social agenda. However, whereas one side preferred it to stay non-binding soft law, others insisted that effective results can only be obtained when indicators have binding consequences.
That European unemployment insurance or an alternative stabiliser could offset short-term and asymmetric economic shocks and strengthen the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) was the conclusion of another set of presentations. However, it has to be assessed which form a stabiliser should take and where the financial backing for such a tool might come from.
The final panel discussion, including outgoing Social Affairs Commissioner László Andor, Green MEP Terry Reintke and Minister Schwall-Düren, participants debated what they are expecting from the new European Commission and the new European Parliament when it comes to future initiatives. While the EMU has revealed its weak points, a high level playing field and practical pillars for the social dimension are crucial.