The fourth meeting of ESN’s Reference Group on the European Semester took place in Brussels on 11th September 2017. The Reference Group consists of representatives from national associations of social services directors, social workers and social services in regional and local authorities. The objective of these annual meetings is to provide officials from different Directorates General of the European Commission (EC) with valuable insights from the local level and to assess the adequacy of the country specific recommendations (CSR).

Emphasising key messages on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Regarding the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPRS), a key message put forward by members of ESN was the necessity of recognising the duty of care towards individuals across the life cycle, as established in the Social Investment Package (SIP).

Jeroen Jutte, head of unit for Employment and Social Aspects of the European Semester, stated that the EPSR is seen as a major shift within the EC. He said it constitutes a game changer that, after its official adoption at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in November 2017, will contribute to delivering a more social Europe.

Moreover, Istvan Vanyolos, policy officer for socioeconomic aspects of the EPSR, pointed out that as one of the key initiatives proposed by President Juncker, the EPSR aims to bring additional rights to European citizens. He also highlighted that the 20 principles of the EPSR reflect different social priorities in Europe.

Reinforcing the role of the local level

Input from the local level that informs European policy-makers about key social challenges is of vital importance for reinforcing the social dimension of the European Semester. Following the assessment of the CSRs, members of ESN highlighted that the EC should enhance the involvement of local level social services departments and regional authorities in the European Semester process.

John Halloran, ESN’s Chief Executive, pointed out that it is essential to reinforce the local level in order to have a more successful implementation of the EPSR as well as to improve the socio-economic development of the European Union (EU).  

Bart Vanhercke, director of the European Social Observatory, indicated that European countries are increasingly paying attention to CSRs published by the EC and are trying to influence the European Semester process. In addition, he stated that the European Semester will become an even more relevant policy coordination process once the EPSR is adopted

Highlighting fiscal policy and social investment

The Reference Group also had the opportunity to discuss the EU’s approach to fiscal policy with Christine Frayne, head of sector for Policy, Strategy and Evaluation in economic and financial affairs. Ms Frayne explained the role of the Stability and Growth Pact in influencing member states’ budget deficit and debt levels. In addition, the Reference Group debated the fact that social spending is too often viewed by national and European policy-makers as expenditure, when it should be recognised as investment.


Following the meeting in Brussels ESN will publish its European Semester report early in November 2017. Members of ESN and the Secretariat have worked together over the past few months to comment on the European Commissions’ country reports and to evaluate the appropriateness of the CSRs. In addition, the report will provide other possible recommendations that could be made for the 2018 Semester cycle.