16/01/2015 09:42 GMT | Updated 18/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Why Stalling Social Europe Could Be Suicidal for the EU


At a time when the European Union is in a rush to reassert its economic prowess at home and globally, it seems that the new Commission has decided that social Europe can be left to hit the buffers.

The evidence that the social dimension of the EU is playing second fiddle to the economic has been writ large recently, as the European Commission launched its 2015 Work Programme.

Not only will it be disastrous for people across Europe already hit by austerity measures if we remain on the current course, but fundamentally, without addressing rising social insecurity and the effects of high levels of unemployment, our new Commissioners are putting the future of the EU itself in great danger. Darker, more extremist forces are always keen to use people's insecurity to spread division and xenophobia.

The total absence of social policy initiatives in the new Commission's first Work Programme, presented in December, led Labour MEPs to formally express our grave concerns this week on the direction being taken. Despite rising levels of in-work poverty, the Commission wholly ignores the damaging implications of rising inequality in wealth, health and education in our societies.

The most competitive economies in the world, such as those in Scandinavia, demonstrate that social cohesion and good working conditions are the bedrock of long-term competitiveness.

To ensure a sustainable, job-rich recovery, we need initiatives which cut costs to our public health bill, create jobs and ensure that they are safe, good quality jobs for men and women.

Therefore, attempts to shelve proposed legislation that would bring vital investment and jobs and save 58,000 premature deaths a year have been called out for the travesty that they are by Labour MEPs.

The proposed waste and air quality directives, which were to be axed completely, have now been put back into the Commission's 2015 Work Programme, albeit in a watered down fashion, primarily due to pressure from Labour MEPs and civil society groups.

Now compare this to the haste with which some of our leaders want to conclude controversial trade talks without full public debate. It is clear that where there is political will, there is a way.

We need to see this same political will to be shown on social policy issues. Without it the European Union will cut off its link to the general public - that is a suicide mission.

The social dimension of the European Union is the link to people and how to improve their lives. For example, it is European legislation which gives every worker the right to four weeks paid holiday per year. Likewise the Equal Treatment directive means that whether working in the private or public sector people are fairly treated, regardless of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. It is the Part Time Workers Directive which gives, predominately women workers, fair terms and conditions at work.

The European Union was founded as a political project to bring peace and prosperity for citizens as well as opportunities to companies and businesses. Without the correct balance between economic and social issues the EU will always be at risk of failing to connect with people. This lack of the social dimension is something needs to addressed, and fast.