The aim of the seminar was to give organisations from civil society an opportunity to discuss with officials from the European Commission how to effectively implement the EPSR through the European Semester. The seminar tackled four main areas: the evolution of economic and social governance, the semester’s impact on poverty prevention and social inclusion, efficient employment services for a recovering economy, and securing equal opportunities through education.

Representatives from the European Commission highlighted the role of the Semester 

Barbara Kauffman, director for Employment and Social Governance kicked off the conference by stating that the European Commission is committed to delivering a “triple A” in social Europe. She told attendees that in order to successfully implement the EPSR more investment is needed to respond to key challenges faced by societies across Europe. These challenges include the digitalisation of the labour market and the ageing of the population, she said. Jeron Jutte, Head of Unit in charge of the employment and social aspects of the European Semester, remarked that data and policy actions are the two key elements that guide the Commission when formulating policy recommendations. He also highlighted the role played by networks both at EU and national level informing the European Commission

Civil society organisations used the platform to identify where progress could be made 

Bart Vanhercke from the European Social Observatory pointed out that the European Semester increasingly frames national policy debates in areas where the European Union (EU) has little competence, such as in education and healthcare. He also highlighted that the European Semester “is a soft law mechanism that needs to be supported by concrete EU funding proposals”. Because of this, the real test regarding the effectiveness of the EPSR would be measured with the next Multiannual Financial Framework, he concluded. 

Carlos Santos Guerrero, vice-chair of ESN, pointed out that is key to involve stakeholders from the local and regional level in order to provide the European Commission with all relevant data to be taken into consideration when drafting the country reports and recommendations. Carlos Santos Guerrero said that the social scoreboard is a very valuable tool, but highlighted that it could be more ambitious by, for example, breaking down data not only by gender but also by age, disability and household composition, to account for a range of vulnerabilities when measuring living conditions. Finally, ESN’s representative commented on the valuable work that ESN’s reference group on the European Semester does by facilitating the communication of views from regional and local levels.

Many other representatives from civil society organisations, such as Eurocities, Eurochild and AGE platform Europe, were present in the discussion. Each presented their views on how to harness the European Semester to make the Social Pillar a Success. All pointed out that more efforts were needed in order to achieve a more social Europe. 

Conclusion

Civil society organisations overwhelmingly welcomed the seminar after calling for a space to bring their views to officials from the European Commission in charge of the European Semester for some time. The seminar meant that representatives from diverse entities could share their recommendations in relation to the implementation of the EPSR through the European Semester. It was agreed that there is considerable potential for real progress.