GOTHENBURG, Sweden (Reuters) - European Union leaders will proclaim a set of 20 “social rights” on Friday in a bid to make the EU more appealing to voters and counter eurosceptic sentiment across the bloc.
The set of social rights, supported by all EU governments and institutions, spells out what the EU believes are the foundations of fair and well-functioning modern labour markets and welfare systems.
It encompasses principles ranging from equal access to jobs, to fair working conditions and wages and social protection and unemployment benefits and training.
“It’s time to put people first for social Europe,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters as he arrived to host the summit.
“This is a very important social summit. To me it’s obvious that our common market cannot be one where employers or enterprises have to compete with lowering wages, lowering conditions,” he said.
Recent elections such as in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, at which populist parties have done well, have shown citizens have lost confidence in governments or in the European Union.
“There is certainly a need to respond,” a senior EU official said.
Britain’s decision last year to leave the EU served as wake-up call for the bloc and made it reflect on the way forward, including putting more emphasis on social policies.
“I think people believe there’s been maybe an excessive focus in recent years on economic matters, banking and we want to re-fire the engine of social Europe, advancing things like equality, workers rights, pension rights and other things,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.
Lofven said he and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker would produce a report after Friday’s summit that would allow leaders meeting again next month to see how the principles should be followed.
Some Eastern European countries are wary that the push for social rights could be used by some nations to cut into current rules that allow their citizens to work elsewhere in the bloc at salaries lower than the local labour force.
The set of rights, to be officially proclaimed as the European Pillar of Social Rights later on Friday, says everybody has the right to quality education throughout their lives and that men and women must have equal opportunities in all areas and be paid the same for work of equal value.
The unemployed have the right to while workers have the right to fair wages that provide a decent standard of living.
Minimum wages should be ensured to satisfy the needs of workers and their families, the leaders will say.
Officials said that while the rights would not be directly enforceable by the EU, they established a common EU standard.
Trade unions and business associations backed the set of European social rights, saying a particular effort was needed to boost the employment chances of young people.
“We want Europe to continue to have the most highly developed social systems in the world,” the business and trade union organisations said in a joint statement.
Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Angus MacSwan