Porto (dpa) – Boost the economy, find jobs, alleviate poverty: At a social summit in Portugal, EU countries looked for ways for a fair revival after the Corona economic crisis.
“Social Europe is more important than ever today,” said Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, who represented Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of the meeting on Friday.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was “extremely optimistic” that the pandemic would soon be defeated. He sees tourism mainly as a job engine with the help of a European vaccination certificate. The recovery of the internal market and the freedom to travel will give the economy the necessary boost, the ÖVP politician said.
In the coastal city of Porto, representatives of the 27 EU countries discussed with associations and trade unions how to implement the Pillar of Social Rights agreed in the EU in 2017. These are 20 principles, including for equal job opportunities, fair wages and good working conditions. These social rights must be implemented point by point, said Minister of Social Affairs Heil. After the enormous economic downturn in the pandemic, it is now also about keeping jobs and creating new ones.
“This comes at just the right time,” said Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission at the social summit. The EU has had a difficult year. But now comes the important step of recovery. The agreed package with 750 billion euros in corona aid will support this. “We have to make sure that the social aspect is an absolute priority,” she said. It’s about good jobs and training for green and digital change. Charles Michel, President of the EU Council, spoke of “an important moment for the European project”.
By the way, Porto should also be about the corona pandemic and, among other things, the question of whether vaccine patents should be released to promote global supply. The EU states are divided on this. On Friday evening, the heads of state or government also wanted to discuss foreign policy issues, including relations with Russia. The informal meeting lasts until Saturday. Chancellor Merkel does not travel to Germany due to the pandemic and only occasionally connects via video.
SPD European politician Katarina Barley criticized this. Barley called on EU countries to do more to promote social cohesion. “The EU must finally adopt a common framework for poverty-proof minimum wages and invest more in equal living conditions from Helsinki to Palermo,” said the European Parliament Vice-President of the German news agency. Left-wing European politician Özlem Demirel criticized: “Social policy only plays a subordinate role in the EU, and that needs to change.”
The European Commission had presented an action plan with three central goals for 2030 to strengthen social rights. In the EU, an employment rate of at least 78 percent should be achieved, at least 60 percent of adults should attend further training courses every year and the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion should be reduced by at least 15. million.
The joint implementation of these goals is the responsibility of the 27 Member States. However, many national governments do not want Brussels to interfere with social policy. Concrete social policy EU plans, such as the introduction of local minimum wages in all 27 countries, are highly controversial.