Sep 24, 2021

Report of the ETUC Social Protection Committee in virtual mode 14 September 2021
The ETUC Confederal Secretary responsible for Social Protection, Liina CARR, after welcoming the 47 participants taking part in this meeting in virtual mode, opened the meeting by informing them first of all that the President of the Commission, Mrs Ursula VON DER LEYEN, would be giving her important speech on Wednesday 15 September on the “State of the Union” (the second of her term of office). She is expected to take stock of what remains to be done and therefore of the challenges still to be met.
She then introduced the Draft Resolution to be presented to the next ETUC Executive Committee, entitled “Implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights at all ages: the ETUC for ageing with dignity”. It represents the culmination of more than two years of work in the framework of the EU-funded project “ETUC SocialAll: Social Protection for All”, in which several FERPA members have been involved, in particular during the Conference last June.
In the first part, it is a kind of roadmap that the ETUC will follow in the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and its principles concerning the elderly in particular.
The second part deals with the more practical issues that the ETUC will develop, such as
– The concept of ageing with dignity
– Guaranteeing a number of standards at European level
– Rapidly revising the rules of governance in the context of the pandemic
– Participation and involvement of trade unions at all levels in the implementation.
In the ensuing debate, the general quality of the text was first of all underlined by all speakers. However, it was requested that the gender dimension be strengthened, as the issue of pensions is important for women, but also the issue of young people and the necessary intergenerational solidarity. Others also called for the ETUC to do more for pensions and in particular to guarantee the value and effectiveness of pensions, in particular through automatic indexation/revaluation of their amount. There were also calls for more staff for social and long-term care. It was also recalled that demanding “ageing with dignity” is good for creating jobs: old age is not only a cost but an opportunity. For FERPA, I first insisted that when we talk about being able to “lead a dignified life” for retired and elderly people, it is not only about the financial issue, which is certainly a determining factor, but also about being able to participate in all the activities of social life and society and not being excluded/discriminated against because of age. Concerning the amendments to be made to the text, there were few, but together with others, including the FGTB, the CSC, FO, EPSU, etc., I asked that the term “fiscal” be changed in the two places in the text where “fiscal sustainability” is noted, to be replaced by “financial sustainability”, which is less restrictive, as it encompasses all sources of funding, including contributions from companies/employers and employees. I also intervened to ask to add to paragraph 23 of the draft Resolution, where it speaks of Rethinking the financing of social protection “without calling into question existing systems”.
This was followed by the presentation of SociAll, the new website of the “Social Protection for All” project.

The Committee was then informed of the work of the Conference on the Future of Europe. It was recalled that this Conference was launched two years ago by the President of the Commission with the support of the French President Mr MACRON. Its objective is to launch a process of reflection on the future of Europe and possibly to introduce changes in the Treaty. It took a year for the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission to agree on the scope of the Conference, which was recorded in the Joint Declaration of the three European entities of 10 March 2021.
The ETUC has been very active since the beginning of the consultations, particularly via the website, to include our priorities in the social field. These include the right to decent pensions, gender equality, quality public and social services, etc. All member organisations are invited to log on to the Conference website to support them.
The ETUC has an observer seat on the Executive Committee of the Conference, which is the driving force behind the Conference, allowing it to make its observations. It is the Executive Committee that sets the agenda for the plenary sessions and then drafts the conclusions based on the discussions held there.
There are also four ‘European Citizens’ Panels’ (200 randomly selected members) to make ‘recommendations’ to the plenary. The first meeting of the first ‘European Citizens’ Panel’ will take place in Strasbourg on 17-19 September to discuss the economy, education, culture and the digital revolution.
The plenaries will formulate proposals. The plenary sessions will include 6 representatives of the ETUC (including the President, the Secretary General, the Deputy Secretary General…) and 6 representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee.
There is a struggle between the European Parliament, civil society and trade unions, on the one hand, and the Council and the Commission on the other, over the aims and changes to be undertaken to make the EU more effective and to defend the rights of citizens. The Council and the Commission would like to limit themselves to “exchanges”, but do not really want to change and there is no will to revise the Treaties.
The next point discussed was the implementation of the “social partners’ agreement on active ageing and solidarity between generations”. Juliane BIR, who is an ETUC adviser involved in social dialogue, recalled the origins of the agreement. It was part of the 2015-2017 work programme of the European social partners: to respond to the challenge of ageing, to offer all workers the opportunity to participate in the labour market regardless of their age (young and old). The aim is not, however, to increase the statutory retirement age, but to combat early exit from the labour market (i.e. before that age). The negotiations took place from March 2016 to December 2017. FERPA participated in the negotiations in an ex officio capacity, but the national negotiators also included members of FERPA. The social partners have given themselves 4 years to implement this agreement, but every year national reports are sent on its implementation.
This agreement was part of the trade union policies to address demographic ageing. And the issue of active ageing is part of collective bargaining. There are too many young people, too many people over 50 and too many women who are unemployed. It is therefore a question of intergenerational solidarity, but also intragenerational solidarity, as far as women are concerned.
The social partners are currently drafting the final report. Thus, there are implementation agreements, depending on the structures of the social dialogue at national level.
Thus, there are agreements concluded at national level in Poland, the Netherlands, Hungary… But they can also be tripartite as in Portugal, Poland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, Germany… They can also be sectoral as in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Denmark. Or at company level, as in Portugal and Finland.
They are aimed in particular at keeping workers over 55 in employment, developing skills, integrating disabled people, health and safety in the workplace, work organisation or developing an intergenerational approach through mentoring, for example.
At the end of this year or the beginning of next year a joint conference with the employers will be organised on the implementation of the agreement and on what remains to be done….
The next topic discussed was recovery and resilience plans, including the implementation of national plans. They deal with the necessary reforms to be implemented in this framework, in connection with the European Semester. 16 national plans have been adopted. 7 are still being developed. There are also two additional plans and two plans that have not yet been presented, due to elections in their countries (Bulgaria and the Netherlands).
They have to meet four criteria: relevance, effectiveness, efficiency and coherence.
With the adoption of the Council implementing decisions approving the plans (with a total of €672.5 billion), the Member States that have been given the green light can use the EU recovery and resilience funds to stimulate their economies and cope with the fallout from COVID-19. They can then sign grant and loan agreements allowing them to obtain pre-financing of up to 13% of their total allocation.
Member States are asked to define a coherent set of projects, reforms and investments in six policy areas:
– Ecological transition
– Digital transformation
– Smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs
– Social and territorial cohesion
– Health and resilience
– Policies for the next generation, including education and skills
The aim remains to reduce the number of people at risk of social exclusion by 15 million.
47 billion is foreseen for health care expenditure, which corresponds to 9.5% of the total.
The question was then put to the members of the Social Protection Committee, concerning their involvement in the National Recovery and Resilience Plans. It seems that there is little involvement of members in view of the few responses (4) to the short questionnaire asking them about this.
In the national plans on ecological transition, the importance of energy poverty is underlined. A certain amount of money should be made available to invest in the green economy to renovate housing.
For FERPA, I intervened to say that we are particularly sensitive to this issue of energy poverty, which particularly affects the elderly. Often their low resources do not allow them to pay their energy bills. But also, many retired and elderly people live in dilapidated or old housing that has never been renovated and is therefore particularly “energy-intensive”. This issue is part of the Manifesto that FERPA will discuss at its next Mid-term General Assembly and on which it intends to mobilise. Marina MONACO, ETUC Councillor, told me that she would be able to count on FERPA on this issue.
The follow-up to the SocialAll project was then discussed.
The Confederal Secretary, Liina CARR, began by stressing that it was a very successful project. She reminded the meeting that we were still in the crisis, as the economies had not yet fully recovered. It is therefore necessary to be able to react in case another crisis occurs. Marina MONACO, ETUC Advisor, complemented these introductory remarks by indicating that many trade unions had participated in the July conference held in virtual mode that the Commission had organised. Several messages had been put forward on rights and means and the ETUC had succeeded in leading this discussion at Commission level. The ETUC was recognised as a real interlocutor on this occasion. The results of this project constitute a real political roadmap for future actions.
The focus will be, in particular, on
– The gender pension gap. A webinar and a study will be organised on the impact of gender on the labour market.
– The introduction of minimum standards not only for the elderly but also for all minimum incomes to which people are entitled.
– The establishment of adequate safety nets, adequate minimum incomes, trying to define what “adequate” means. For this, the participation of FERPA will be interesting.
All these topics will be discussed next year. The President of the ETUC Youth Committee pointed out that the focus should also be on youth. Others like the representative of the FGTB insisted on the fight against the commercialisation of health care systems. I intervened for FERPA to support this intervention.
At the end of the meeting, the ETUC informed the Committee that it had joined the European Platform on Homelessness.

Henri Lourdelle
FERPA Special Advisor