The European Pillar of Social Rights was jointly proclaimed and signed by the European Commission, European Parliament, and the Council at the Gothenburg Social Summit in November 2017. The European Institutions hold regular high-level meetings and dialogue seminars with churches, non-confessional, and philosophical organisations as partial fulfilment of Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
On 26 June 2018, the European Parliament brought together representatives from religious communities for a dialogue on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, a “set of 20 principles and rights that support the renewal of labour markets and welfare systems across the EU.”
Economic and political challenges have hurt the quality of life for many in Europe. Risk of unemployment and poverty remains high, many deal with precarious and unstable work, unpaid or underpaid internships are on the rise, and Europe is falling short of many goals outlined in the EU 2020 strategy.
Mairead McGuinness, First Vice-President of the European Parliament, emphasised the unique importance of churches and other religious communities in responding to these challenges, and defending human dignity and contributing to public policy debates. “You are present in every town and village across the 28 Member States.”
Contributions to the dialogue seminar stressed the importance of the social dimension for Europe’s future. Luca Jahier, president of the European Economic and Social Committee, noted that a full one-third of what is written in EU treaties deals directly with social issues. Others, including Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton (The Salvation Army) called on the EU to ensure funding for the implementation of the Social Pillar, and synchronise its evaluation with the international Sustainable Development Goals. She also critiqued the Pillar for making no mention of undeclared migrants and asylum seekers.
Metropolitan Ignatios of Demetrias and Almyros (Church of Greece) reflected theologically on the need for dignified working and living conditions for all. He stressed that this is a collective, rather than individual concern. “To fight for your daily bread, that is a practical problem. To fight for you the daily bread for your neighbour, that is a spiritual problem.”
Rev. Daniel Topalski of the United Methodist Church in Bulgaria noted that churches contribute to building caring and inclusive societies through their diaconal work, and that the Social Pillar is part of the European soul, alongside values like peace, solidarity and equality.
“The European Pillar should be seen as a beginning, not an end,” noted Heather Roy, Secretary General of Eurodiaconia, “There are many things that still need to be developed, especially at the national level, because this is where we will see success. We must defend against any watering down the pillar, especially as we may see a change in the European Parliament following next year’s elections.”