The added value of the European Pillar of Social Rights could and should consist in serving as a broad framework in order to link and enhance existing social initiatives (e.g. Erasmus, the European Health Insurance Card, the European Social Fund) in a systematic way and to popularise them in a coherent and recognisable set. Maurizio Ferrera and Francesco Corti explain why they think an ‘EU social card’ is a good idea.

 

The key term that underpins the symbolic appeal of the European Pillar of Social Rights is, precisely, the term “rights”. This connects the Pillar to the language of citizenship and social entitlements, which has become so culturally and institutionally entrenched in the European tradition.

But what are rights, exactly? We can define rights as sources of power. There are three distinct power resources which back the actual exercise of rights. First, there are normative resources. Holding a right means having legitimate reasons to claim compliance on the side of others. Secondly, there are enforcement resources: if compliance is not obtained, the right holder can activate legal coercion. Thirdly, there are instrumental resources: the availability of practical conditions for a full exercise of rights. While the second type of resources (enforcement) are what makes rights (and, by extension, citizenship) “hard”, in contemporary liberal-democratic societies we should not underestimate the importance of the other two types: normative and especially instrumental resources.

We suggest that the first tangible impact of the EPSR in terms of citizen empowerment could and should result, primarily, from these instrumental types of resources, i.e. financial, organisational, infrastructural, service resources.

Let us apply this division to EU “rights”. Even when it adopts binding norms that indirectly impinge on national citizen- ship, the EU cannot provide enforcement resources directly to citizens. The EU does provide, however, normative resources (if only through soft law) and EU citizenship does directly empower citizens with some instrumental resources. We suggest that the first tangible impact of the EPSR in terms of citizen empowerment could and should result, primarily, from these instrumental types of resources, i.e. financial, organisational, infrastructural, service resources. The Social Pillar, in fact, consists of ‘soft’ rights as normative resources (e.g. right to protection from poverty). Maybe, in the future, ‘hard’ EU legislation will follow from these rights. However, in the short run, concrete instruments, which set the necessary conditions for a full exercise of these rights (e.g. a child guarantee), are what we can expect.

‘Facilitating’ social initiatives

The EU already has a wide array of ‘facilitating’ social initiatives. Many of them (e.g. European Employment Services (EURES), ERASMUS and the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)) are aimed at mobile EU citizens, the “movers”, to facilitate them entering into the citizenship space of another community and enjoying its rights. Others (e.g. the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD)) are aimed at the “stayers”, to support and facilitate access to social protection and pro- mote inclusion in domestic arenas. However, among ordinary people there is only limited awareness of these initiatives.

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For this reason, the added-value of the EPSR could and should consist in serving as a broad framework in order to link and enhance these initiatives in a systematic way, and to popularise them in a coherent and recognisable set. Some results of the Social Pillar’s capacity to enhance power resources already emerged in the Commission’s preliminary documents. The strengthening of the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), the increase in the volume of the ESF, the EGF and the FEAD and the implementation of two new instruments, i.e. the Skills Guarantee and the Child Guarantee, are among the most valuable concrete proposals that could empower the stayers’ EU citizenship. The same applies, with respect to the movers, to the Commission’s proposals for a European Labor Authority, a European Student Card, a European social security number and to the ongoing project of the EU Disability Card.

However, in order to make the EU citizens aware of this set of instrumental resources, a mere systematisation and enhancement of social initiatives is not sufficient. A further step is needed. To this end, a smart move would be to introduce a specific practical instrument, available to all European citizens, making them aware of (and also easing access to) their EU-based “instrumental” power resources.

This proposal goes beyond the above-mentioned European Social Security Number, as it would also include the “stayers” and not only the “movers”.

An ‘EU social card’

We suggest something like an ‘EU social card’, a tangible good, with a high symbolic potential, capable of fostering collective identities, ‘we-feeling’ sentiments and membership perceptions. This proposal goes beyond the above-mentioned European Social Security Number, as it would also include the “stayers” and not only the “movers”. In this regard, it is closer to the idea of an ‘EU social security card’, launched by the European Parliament. However, it is even more ambitious than the latter position, as it explicitly serves not only administrative (i.e. inform citizens about their rights) but also political objectives.

Call for incremental improvements

The emphasis on instrumental resources which facilitate the exercise of social rights may seem unambitious and low-key, but they have the advantage of being practical and can become operative without Treaty changes or major legislative innovations. National citizen- ship and welfare regimes were not born with a historical Big Bang but with a slow sequence of incremental reforms. Given the heavy legacy of such regimes, incrementalism is the most promising and pol- icy strategy for the EU today in terms of short and medium term results – and this holds true for the EPSR too. Such a strategy should not lose sight of legislative measures and does not rule out the elaboration of grand political visions. Quite to the contrary, it pre- supposes a gradual “hardening” of rights-production and, especially, visionary thinking, otherwise small steps become a purposeless and random walk which are very likely to result in political failure.

photo: shutterstock.com

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