Gothenburg, Sweden – More than 20 leaders from the European Union gathered in the Swedish city of Gothenburg on Friday to discuss social issues including jobs, growth, education and culture in the first such meeting in 20 years.
Dubbed the Social Summit, the gathering is meant to provide new impetus for EU member states to make sure that citizens have access to jobs with fair working conditions and that the labour market can stay competitive in the face of global and demographic changes.
Focus on social welfare
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who was co-chairing the meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said the summit was timely and much-needed to refocus the energies of the EU and individual member states on social welfare.
“Our economies and the world of work have changed so profoundly – this means that the challenges we face also changed and that we need new solutions to manage them,” Lofven said. “And that is what this summit is all about.”
Lofven said that changes in the job market, especially after the 2008 financial crisis, have led to rising political distrust by citizens.
“It is time for us to put people first,” he said.
During the summit, the EU leaders endorsed a set of recommendations – called the European Pillar of Social Rights – which are meant to give countries guidance on how to deliver better social systems.
The recommendations, which are not binding, call for better access to the job market, fair working conditions including as wages that can provide a “decent standard of living,” and social protections such as childcare, healthcare and housing assistance for homeless people.
European social standards
The proclamation was signed by Juncker, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas, who signed on behalf of all 28 EU member states as his country holds the rotating EU presidency.
Juncker said the main task after the summit will be to make sure that the recommendations have an impact in each EU country.
“My wish would be … that this social pillar statement is not just a list of pious wishes, but that we get concrete legislative proposals off the ground,” he said. “Some are already on their way.”
The leaders will also attend a lunch hosted by European Council President Donald Tusk where they will discuss education and culture.
Leaders were also expected to discuss Brexit at the sidelines of the meeting. British Prime Minister Theresa May was set to hold several bilateral meetings, including with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Tusk, as she pushes her EU counterparts to unlock the second phase of Brexit talks in December.