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A strong Social Europe is essential for EU's fair and sustainable recovery  

​EU's gender equality strategy should also address the impact of Covid-19 pandemic

The EU's recovery efforts after the Covid-19 pandemic must have a strong social dimension in order to maintain social security networks, safeguard workers' jobs and avoid wrongful dismissals, members of local and regional governments highlighted in a debate with Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Social Rights and Jobs. An opinion discussed at the European Committee of the Regions' SEDEC commission on Thursday points out the close link between the EU's social agenda, the Green Deal and the digital transition and calls for more investment in youth, education and life-long learning.

Addressing the members of the CoR's Commission for Social Policy, Employment, Education, Research and Culture (SEDEC), Commissioner Nicolas Schmit pointed out that as a result of the pandemic, poverty and inequalities are on the rise. He went on to stress that, in the current circumstances which put the Single Market to the test, European solidarity and active subsidiarity are needed more than ever.

"It is in the EU's regions where the action really happens. It is in the regions where our policies are implemented. And it is in the regions that our European Social Fund becomes a reality on the ground. Let's work together to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights and to use it as our compass in recovering from the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic", Commissioner Schmit said. He also promised the Commission would look into the "unacceptable situations" affecting seasonal workers across the EU.

Anne Karjalainen (FI/PES), Chair of the SEDEC Commission and rapporteur of the CoR opinion on A Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions, said: "The Covid-19 pandemic is leaving a trail of deep social and economic damages across the EU, but it must not be used as a pretext for postponing or withdrawing social policy proposals. The green and digital transitions must be based on social justice, equality and environmental sustainability. In times of hardship, like those we are living in, we all look up to the European Union for protection. Let's hope that Member States will now live up to our expectations and come to a swift agreement on the EU's future budget, which must be commensurate to the major recovery challenge at hand. This is essential for a strong Social Europe that leaves no people and no places behind, and for cities and regions that are fully empowered to take forward just transitions.

Referring to the European Commission's communication published in January, Ms Karjalainen's opinion calls for a clear, coordinated and ambitious roadmap for implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights and points out that the Just Transition Fund – EU's fund to support green transition in most vulnerable regions – should also be in line with the EU's social pillar. It underlines the key role of social dialogue and collective bargaining in ensuring fair working conditions and calls to pay more attention to health and well-being at work, also in the light of new forms of employment (platform economy) and new working patterns, such as constant connectivity and teleworking.

Furthermore, the opinion highlights the importance of up-to-date skills and lifelong learning and suggests increasing funding for Youth Guarantee, making it permanent and extending the age limit to 30. SEDEC members welcomed the Commission's recent proposals for a new European Skills Agenda and Youth Employment Support and appointed Csaba Borboly (RO/EPP, President of Harghita County Council) and Romy Karier (LU/EPP, Member of Clervaux municipal council) respectively as CoR rapporteurs for these files. It was also decided to draft an own-initiative opinion on a Future plan for care workers and care services (rapporteur Christian Illedits, AT/PES, Member of the State Government of Burgenland).

Members pointed out that workers in employment sectors particularly exposed to the risks of the Covid-19 pandemic need stronger social protection, safer working conditions and better remuneration. As most workers in these sectors are women, the impact of the pandemic should also be addressed in the EU's Gender Equality Strategy, the SEDEC Commision argues in another opinion presented on Thursday by Concha Andreu (ES/PES), President of La Rioja region.

"All the major challenges the EU faces today - including the green and digital transitions and the demographic challenge - have a gender dimension. This is why it is essential to have a gender perspective in all the Union's policies, in particular for the recovery plan, to avoid gender inequalities becoming even wider. Equality is a responsibility of all of us, including local and regional authorities, who demand that we are recognized as strategic partners in the design, implementation and monitoring of the EU Equality Strategy. Let's work together to make the process towards full equality as fast as possible", rapporteur Concha Andreu said.

Ms Karjalainen's and Ms Andreu's opinions will be adopted in the CoR plenary session in October.

The SEDEC Commission also adopted the two following opinions in Thursday's meeting:

Lauri Ouvinen
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