PES Social Europe Network convenes to support transformative Commission Work Programme

30/01/2020

Heléne Fritzon MEP, Agnes Jongerius MEP, Yonnec Polet

Pictured left to right: Heléne Fritzon MEP, Chair of the PES SEN Agnes Jongerius MEP, and PES Deputy Secretary General Yonnec Polet

A group of 50 MEPs, representatives from PES member parties and organisations, trade unionists and civil society convened today to discuss action on three vital areas for EU citizens: social rights, housing, and wellbeing.

The progressive political family has been working hard to set the agenda of the European Commission in the new mandate, pushing for measures which will transform the lives of EU citizens for the better.

The PES Social Europe Network (SEN) met to set out its priorities for the first time under the new European Parliament and a new Commission. The meeting was also presided over, for the first time, by new SEN Chair Agnes Jongerius MEP.

SEN Chair Agnes Jongerius MEP said:

“After years of austerity, it is time for the EU to develop a new approach for growth and social progress in Europe, one that puts sustainability and people at the centre of its policies.

“This is our mission and we are succeeding, as we push hard to set the European Commission’s agenda, fighting to make sure measures to transform the lives of EU citizens for the better are realised through the Commission’s Work Programme.

“Today’s SEN has been clear. This means strong social rights for workers, action to end child poverty, and ensuring people have affordable and good quality housing. This is why we warmly welcome the commitment and initiatives of Commissioner Nicolas Schmit.”

The PES has been working hard to make sure the agenda of the new European Commission is truly transformative, and the first item on the SEN agenda was ensuring the European Pillar of Social Rights is fully implemented.

Thanks to the strong efforts of the progressive political family, key PES proposals - such as a reinforced Youth Guarantee, a European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme, and proposals around minimum wages - have been included in the European Commission’s new Work Programme, which was unveiled yesterday. These policies will form the basis of a Social Action Plan – a roadmap to push social issues onto the agenda of a recalibrated European Semester, supporting children, decent wages, and fair working conditions.

The SEN’s discussion reaffirmed the need for progressives to take steps to ensure the Commission delivers on this transformative agenda for social rights. One area where the PES is taking further action is child poverty - we believe it is the EU’s duty to lift children out of destitution, to show that we can stand up for the most vulnerable.

A European Child Guarantee was a central theme of the PES’s 2019 European Parliament elections campaign. In a huge victory for impoverished children, the Commission took up these proposals. Now progressives will work to ensure they are implemented, identifying concrete measures to make the best use of the funds, if and when they become available after the budget negotiations conclude, to alleviate child poverty and address its root causes in a progressive way. Many progressives have led the way in tackling this issue at the national level.

The need for good quality, sustainable, and affordable housing was also addressed at the SEN. 1 in 4 European households spends almost half of its disposable income on housing. Rising costs mean commuting distances increase, the social mix of cities is less diverse, and social cohesion is eroding. Too many European also live in poor quality housing.

The Commission’s European Green Deal proposals include welcome action for more sustainable housing, notably on the renovation aspect. This is a solid start. The PES will continue to push on this topic, to make housing more affordable. By addressing the availability and affordability of housing on one hand, and energy efficiency on the other, Europe can enhance social cohesion, increase citizens’ purchasing power and create construction jobs, whilst also contributing to the fight against climate change and tackling energy poverty.

The meeting concluded with a discussion on a topic which was front and centre to the Finnish Council Presidency agenda last year – wellbeing and the economy of wellbeing.

The PES believes advancing wellbeing on the EU’s political agenda is an important element of the fight to overcome inequality, secure tax justice, advance a social market economy, tackle the threat of climate change, and harness the digital transformation. A focus on wellbeing places these issues under a single umbrella which is immediately relatable for EU citizens.