In 2017, the European Union took a crucial step to open a new phase in the development of the European Union – it created the so-called “social pillar”, but the European Council did not ratify it. As we know, on 7-8 May, in Porto (Portugal), there will be a social summit on the practical implementation of the social pillar, based on the so-called Action Plan issued by the European Commission. These planned tasks are organised under three main headings: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, including wages, and social protection and social inclusion. Although some social measures have been taken, they still lack institutional guarantees. An action plan for 2021 has been developed, bringing back the idea of long-term planning with targets. It is important that these are not only the Commission’s targets, but that they are also confirmed by the Heads of State and Government in the European Council.
It must be achieved that social affairs can be subordinated to other areas of government in order to achieve these targets. It would be important to raise the responsibility for social affairs in the European Commission to vice-president level. This has never happened before in the history of the Union.
It would also be necessary to strengthen the influence and participation of the social partners in the economic governance of the European Union. The Commission should also provide more effective support for capacity building of the social partners in the Member States. The Union must be developed into a social Union, so we should not simply talk about a social dimension, but about a strong social Union. This can only have a limited impact if it is not accompanied by reforms elsewhere, for example in the areas of monetary union, financial regulation and cohesion policy to help catch up. The key question is how much control societies will have.
The EU must provide a sustaining environment. So it should not become a welfare state itself, but help stabilise the welfare systems of the member states. An important example of the latter would be the establishment of a reinsurance of unemployment benefit funds, which the current Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has already promised. A common unemployment insurance fund would bail out Member States’ unemployment insurance resources in the event of major crises, as is the case in the US. Our aim is to prevent a drift between the centre and the periphery.
Establishing unemployment insurance at EU level, in whatever form, even as reinsurance, would have a threefold stabilising effect. First, it would stabilise solvent demand in times of crisis. It would thus restore the chances of an earlier resumption of growth in countries that are temporarily in recession and, secondly, it would help to stabilise the social situation in the zones concerned, preventing or at least curbing social divergence, as measured by poverty rates or income inequality.
The big challenge for the EU in the decade ahead is to implement the euro reform and to further catch up the peripheral eastern regions without the internal polarisation that has been experienced so far, or even to reverse it. We must take the initiative to take joint action against inequalities and imbalances. This requires the use of legislative instruments, policy coordination and the EU budget. It is essential to reform the EU’s fiscal rules before the end of this parliamentary term, so that the EU is not simply a fiscal constraint for Member States, but also an opportunity for an active fiscal policy that allows for the expansion of incomes to boost the economy. But neither is it possible to reverse harmful trends without, for example, setting and maintaining health standards at EU level and taking the social union seriously.
All of this must be included in a new (basic) treaty or a treaty amendment. The conference on the future of Europe, which will formally start in May 2021, could easily end with the conclusion that the Treaty needs to be amended or even a new Treaty.
Sustaining the EU requires a transformation of the EU – a fundamental means of doing so is to transform the legitimating electoral system to reduce and then eliminate the EU’s democratic deficit.
The scale of this task calls for the creation of a new discipline, electoral science, using the tools, methods and results of almost all social sciences.
The current electoral systems are all prisoners of politics, of the parliamentary interests of the various political parties. Thus fraud is a “natural” part of elections, but only in dictatorships does it go unpunished. The triple requirement for democratic elections is freedom, fairness and transparency. The weakness of the latter is that even the OSCE does not define the content of this criterion. Any fair electoral law must be based on aspects of the parliamentary system. On this basis, the reform(s) of the functioning of the EU must, above all, start from a redefinition of the functions of the European Parliament and a redefinition of the democratic objectives that serve these functions. Reform of the EU’s electoral system can only be built on this basis.
The objectives that this system must pursue are:
a.) To make the continent economically competitive in a way that at the same time provides a secure livelihood for all EU citizens;
b.) To be an allied state, but neither a United States of Europe nor a “continental UN”; joint decision-making should be limited to the areas of defence, foreign affairs and finance, with national sovereignty in other areas;
c.) the social structure, economic and political objectives must be harmoniously integrated and the principle of solidarity, democracy and a balanced relationship between political parties and civil society organisations must be fully respected.
It is essential to radically renew the EU’s founding treaty in order to establish and maintain its viability, and to redefine the structure of the Union, the tasks and powers of its institutions and its rules. A one-round, list-based system of a law – or two laws (a substantive law and the creation of procedural rules) – legitimising the EU must be created, with all the material and technical conditions for this. Only parties with a verifiable and regulated membership in at least 7 (seven) Member States should be allowed to sit in the EU Parliament. This inevitably requires the establishment of a European Federal Electoral System and an EU Electoral Register, a register of parties and their candidates, as well as a complete overhaul of the current campaign rules and campaign financing, which is a hotbed of general corruption. It should also be demanded that a system of education in electoral science be built up from basic education onwards and made compulsory.
The synchronisation of the regulation of labour and the process of self-development of capital, and the resolution of the discrepancy, are of primary importance. The concentration of capital is not only an accounting/legal process, but also fundamentally political. It cannot therefore be reduced to technical legal solutions. Without a coherent and workable development of strike law, any development of the EU is an illusion.
A change of mindset is needed – to develop a European minimum wage as a manifestation of European unity. This requires a rejection of the belief in the omnipotence of the market – a comprehensive regulation of the market. The starting point for any meaningful progress is to open up the possibilities for widespread trade unionism – to increase the current 20 % trade union organisation (unionisation level) to 70 %.
The starting point for problem-solving in EU reform is to identify which issues are urgent and unavoidable, and to strengthen the fabric of social rights and society. The ecological crisis is the crisis of capitalism – its solution is the convergence of left and green organisations.
The current system is based on the market-based provision of an increasing share of social needs. The institutional framework for workers’ representation has disappeared. The regulation of these rights is a national matter for the Member States, with the result that the Member States have a wide range of different practices, and it is essential to regulate them in law. Wage labour inevitably brings with it a crisis of reproductive labour. But also a housing crisis – and a long series of forced situations, including its characteristic form, housing poverty.
State support is not a real help. The education system works to increase the crisis, by increasing the cost of education, by limiting opportunities to enter the market. For students, the crisis is deep and deepening. This is coupled with and exacerbated by forced digitalisation.
The globalised food system is dysfunctional and ecologically unsustainable. Its nutrients are low – which breeds quality hunger. In the EU budget system, support for agriculture – public money – goes to large producers for 99% of what is spent on it.
The current EU operating system wants to solve the problems that it generates, triggers and causes. So a new ecosystem is needed, which requires cooperation with alternative organisations existing in Europe, a transformative social system of solidarity. The solidarity economy is an alternative to capitalism and other authoritarian economic systems. Trade union organisation and ‘new wave cooperatives’ – no longer for wage workers. Which would be complemented by consumer cooperatives.
Participatory management based on worker ownership should be developed. EU citizens should not be addressed as individual consumers and workers, but should be targeted at a comprehensive restructuring of the structure of production and consumption. The EU’s 20 principles are essentially completely irrelevant to the crisis phenomena that are known and discussed.
What is needed is a just transition and a sustainable transition that is transparent and based on worker ownership. Aid must take into account the different situations of the Member States and be used in a way that does not serve to restore the economic structures that have led to the crisis.
One of the great lessons of the past decades is that the double standard has been that we loudly proclaim the need to help the disadvantaged, the poor, but in reality we believe that helping them is not a priority Among other things, because we hold the disadvantaged, the poor, responsible for this situation, it stifles even the most progressive aspirations. We are silencing the decades, or rather centuries, of progress that have led to the always unequal conditions that have led to the current state of affairs.
What is needed is a caring state, the building of a cooperative society of autonomous individuals, for which the rule of law is a sine qua non. A progressive personal income tax is needed. The eradication of child poverty should be a priority.
The current 90-day period for job-seeker’s allowance should be extended to at least nine months. Education is the main means of preventing poverty from becoming a legacy. A significant reduction in inequalities in education, i.e. equal access to knowledge, is the most important long-term task.
The introduction of an integrated social and health care system is an essential prerequisite. And a precondition for any change is that everyone has a roof over their heads.
Social policy is much more than welfare, and a successful policy can only be achieved in a whole-of-government framework if all ministries, all state agencies, take the necessary measures. If we do not start to reduce social inequalities, if we silently assist in the division of society, in the impossibility of more and more families to live, then it is in vain to claim GDP growth, in vain to boast about the rise in real income, which does not occur among the disadvantaged – Hungary’s modernisation will fail.
27 April 2021 Hungarian Social Forum