Questions and Answers


On the social situation and EU social "acquis"

1. What do you see as most pressing employment and social priorities?

The EU faces a very difficult challenge. Working people feel let down by the EU. This crisis in confidence comes as working people struggle with falling living standards, declining purchasing power and the rise of precarious work. Quality jobs are being hollowed out and many workers have seen their pay and conditions deteriorate; real wages have not kept up with productivity increases or profits and poverty wages and mistreatment are the norm for too many workers in the EU. Anxiety over the free movement of workers at the same time as cut­backs in benefits and services, combined with high levels of unemployment, risk making Europeans more inward­looking.

But erecting barriers, scapegoating migrant workers and playing on workers’ fears must not be the way forward. Instead the Pillar of Social Rights should address workers’ concerns by proposing better rules to address shortcomings in the legal framework along with strong recommendations and action to improve the living and working conditions of workers across Europe. 

2. How can we account for different employment and social situations across Europe?

The wide discrepancies that we observe across Member States in relation to employment and the broader social situation are the product of the wide divergence in investment made in these communities and the dialogue mechanisms in place to deliver it. In too many Member States we have witnessed a growing share of the workforce in insecure and precarious employment – if in work at all. When this is broken down by sector and demographics, the rates of un/underemployment spiral, with under­represented groups continuing to miss out on their fair share of limited growth.

The best way to tackle these huge challenges is through a commitment to creating the conditions for quality jobs throughout the EU, while fighting increasing inequalities, providing adequate safety­nets against poverty and major risks of life, reinforcing social protection schemes, thus enabling truly participation in the society and inclusive growth.

This means encouraging strategic investment and working closely with trade unions to identify and deliver such investment in a way that creates the sustainable improvement of employment and social standards as laid down in the EU Treaties.

3. Is the EU "acquis" up to date and do you see scope for further EU action?

There is scope and need for further EU action.

The European Pillar of Social Rights must be ambitious. Expectations are high and there are many problems to be addressed. The EU has to show that it serves its citizens and workers and is able to put in place new policies that match their practical needs. This can be done by bringing forward and delivering concrete proposals in seven priority areas:

1. A fairer economy for quality job creation
2. A pay rise for fairness at work and economic justice
3. Improved enforcement of existing rights and establishing new rights
4. Fair mobility
5. Secure labour market transitions
6. Social protection and strong public services
7. Institutional change to ensure equal emphasis on promoting Social Europe

Rebalancing social rights with economic freedoms: Urgent action is needed to complete accession to the European Convention on Human Rights along with the adoption of a Social Progress Protocol/clauses otherwise the EU social rights brought forward under the EPSR will be vulnerable to attack from EU economic freedoms. 

On the future of work and welfare systems

4. What trends would you see as most transformative?

[Please select at most three from the list below]

  • ✔ Demographic trends (e.g. ageing, migration)
  • Changes in family structures
  • New skills requirements
  • ✔ Technological change
  • Increasing global competition
  • Participation of women in the labour market
  • New ways of work
  • ✔ Inequalities 
  • Other

5. What would be the main risks and opportunities linked to such trends?

1) Migration

Erecting barriers, scapegoating migrant workers and playing on workers’ fears must not be the way forward. Instead, the EPSR should address workers’ vulnerability to exploitation because they are coming from a country where wages are lower. Unfair obstacles to free movement of workers must be removed while at the same time competition on labour costs must not be allowed or encouraged, and equal treatment must apply regardless of the immigration status or type of employment contract given to the worker.
Managing migration better in the EU means cracking down on exploitation as well as investing in communities that are feeling increased pressures from population change, by providing schools, hospitals and extra housing for a growing population. It means enabling everyone to learn the local language as a necessary first step to integration. It also means tackling the lack of jobs and opportunities that forces workers to emigrate.

2) Technological change

Digitalisation means opportunities as well as risks. There will be winners and losers amongst workers. One of the risks is that digitalisation might become an additional driver of social and territorial inequalities. Therefore the EPSR needs to shape an inclusive transition towards good and fair digital work based on good working conditions, a safe and secure work environment and a fair employment relationship and to avoid digitalisation further splitting society into a few winners and many losers and contributing to an even more unequal distribution of wealth;

3) Poverty and inequalities

Growing inequality, poverty and social exclusion have alarming social, political and economic costs. The fight against poverty and inequalities implies to improve the quality of employment and wages – thus of social contribution to the systems. Policies aimed at social inclusion and mobility must be promoted and duly funded, as they represent essential drivers for social stability and innovation and inclusive growth. 

6. Are there policies, institutions or firm practices – existing or emerging – which you would recommend as references?

Social dialogue and collective bargaining on all respective levels are the reference for the social pillar.

It is enshrined in the TFEU namely article 153-155 and part of the acquis. But sound industrial relations also have an economic added value. It is recognised – including by employers – that countries with the most developed social partnerships and effective social systems are among the most successful and competitive in the world, even in times of crisis. Strong industrial relations, including collective bargaining, are part of democracy and necessary instruments for a fair and efficient regulation of the economy and of the labour market.

Right to collective bargaining needs to be preserved, enhanced and promoted. The autonomy of social partners in collective bargaining needs defense.

Increasing wages and boosting internal demand, together with investments and innovation, is a fundamental tool for supporting economic growth.

Collective bargaining is a key instrument in combating discrimination and tackling the pay gap between men and women.

Public spending and investment policies must be engaged in order to relaunch inclusive growth, shape the future of welfare according to the inequality and poverty reality, and support citizens’ need and societal recovery. Education, care and inclusive welfare policies must be activated in order to be capable to generate a positive multiplier effect in terms of job quality, employment creation, quality service provision.

On the European Pillar of Social Rights

7. Do you agree with the approach outlined here for the establishment of a European Pillar of Social Rights?

I strongly disagree.

Europe needs to be social, Europe needs to serve its citizens, Europe must not be based solely on economic considerations.

Fundamental social rights must take precedence over economic freedoms. This requires recognition that the status quo is not acceptable. Social rights must be promoted and defended with the same institutional urgency and commitment as economic and fiscal rules.

Convergence must lead to improvements for all workers: The European Pillar of Social Rights must be designed with the overriding aim of positively improving social protection across Europe.

Protect quality employment not just minimum standards: In­work poverty, precariousness, poor working conditions and labour market segmentation need to be countered, the EPSR needs to put forward a programme for Decent Work and Quality Jobs.

Relaunch social protection as a ground for managing transition, support inclusive growth, respond to people’s needs.

8. Are there aspects which are not adequately expressed or covered so far?

The European Pillar of Social Rights ­ the title should be programme.
The universal application of labour and social rights is vital. Rights cannot be restricted to the Eurozone.

The EPSR should therefore enforce the rights elaborated in the CFREU, the ESC and the ECHR. Promoting ‘Decent Work’ in Europe means ensuring that the EU and its Member States fully respect and promote (ILO) international labour standards including pursuing their ratification by Member States.

The rights afforded must be real and not based solely on individual rights, but also collective rights: Benchmarks are helpful for tracking progress on the implementation of rights and agreed objectives, but on their own are not sufficient to address workplace realities.

The EPSR should promote social dialogue and collective bargaining as the right way to design and implement the policies and rights within it. It should acknowledge the need to rebuild social dialogue and collective bargaining where these have been eroded by the policies adopted in response to the crisis, or where they are dysfunctional due to the absence of fundamental freedoms and rights or the lack of commitment or the stance adopted by employers.

Gender equality on European labour markets must be guaranteed: Female participation in the labour market must improve and the scandal of lower wages as well as lower pension entitlements for women must be addressed. 

9. What domains and principles would be most important as part of a renewed convergence for the euro area?

Please select maximum 5

  1. Skills, education and life­long learning
  2. Flexible and secure labour contracts
  3. Secure professional transitions
  4. Active support for employment
  5. Gender equality and work­life balance
  6. Equal opportunities
  7. ✔ Conditions of employment
  8. ✔ Wages
  9. Health and safety at work
  10. ✔ Social dialogue and involvement of workers
  11. Integrated social benefits and services
  12. Health care and sickness benefits
  13. ✔ Pensions
  14. Unemployment benefits
  15. ✔ Minimum income
  16. Disability benefits
  17. Long­term care
  18. Childcare
  19. Housing
  20. Access to essential services

All domains mentioned in the list refer to important topics. However, the content of the proposal by the Commission in many respects fails to fulfil the expectations for a substantial strengthening of the social dimension of the EU.

Extend beyond the Eurozone: The universal application of labour and social rights is vital. Rights cannot be restricted to the Eurozone. Some reinforced coordination in the Eurozone can be considered, where necessary, to promote upward convergence of social protection systems and address EU economic governance impacts that adversely affect social and employment policies in the Eurozone countries. 

10. How should these be expressed and made operational? In particular, do you see the scope and added value of minimum standards or reference benchmarks in certain areas and if so, which ones?

Fundamental social rights must take precedence over economic freedoms. This requires recognition that the status quo is not acceptable. Social rights must be promoted and defended with the same institutional urgency and commitment as economic and fiscal rules.

Convergence must lead to improvements for all workers: The EPSR must be designed with the overriding aim of positively improving social protection across Europe. This means that the stated objective of ‘convergence’ should be clarified as meaning ‘upward convergence’, resulting in progressive and measurable improvements in social rights. Furthermore, the objective of ‘convergence’ must not be used to reduce standards nor to hold back better­performing Member States.

Protect quality employment not just minimum standards: The EPSR will not be effective and sustainable if it is based solely on the lowest common denominator. While minimum standards are needed to counter in­work poverty, precariousness, poor working conditions and labour market segmentation, the EPSR needs to put forward a programme for Decent Work and Quality Jobs.

Guarantee non­regression: The principle of ‘non­regression’ in the level of protection afforded to workers should be legally guaranteed. It would be unacceptable for the EPSR to threaten the existing framework of rights

Rights and benchmarks: The title of the initiative explicitly refers to ‘social rights’, and the EPSR should therefore enforce the rights elaborated in the CFREU, the ESC and the ECHR. Promoting ‘Decent Work’ in Europe means ensuring that the EU and its Member States fully respect and promote (ILO) international labour standards including pursuing their ratification by MS. The rights afforded must be real and not based solely on individual rights, but also collective rights: Benchmarks are helpful for tracking progress on the implementation of rights and agreed objectives but on their own are not sufficient to adress workplace realities. 

Detailed comments by domain

1. Skills, education and life­long learning

Right to quality lifelong learning and vocational (re­)training

The EPSR should provide for a ‘European right to paid educational leave’: for training and education throughout life and to ensure workers can adapt, start a new stage in their careers, and gain qualifications not related to their current job. The following proposals can achieve this:

The right to free and public guidance and placement services for all workers and unemployed people. Specific measures must be aimed at low­skilled workers and workers in vulnerable sectors, whilst also recognising that workers with higher skill sets also need access to a wide range of re­education and skills development schemes;

The right to measures to avoid precariousness;

Bringing forward proposals for quality of apprenticeships based on a European quality framework on apprenticeships;

Increasing the proportion of workers participating in workplace learning and adults participating in Continuous VET (CVET) and lifelong learning (at Member State level at least 15% of adults by 2020);

Skills guarantee: reducing the proportion of the working age population with low skills from 20% to 10%; Increasing the numbers and categories of workers covered by collective agreements on CVET; Increasing funding and investment in education and training over a prolonged period;

Setting a target in agreement with the social partners for the minimum share of companies’ budget to be allocated to training provisions. 

2. Flexible and secure labour contracts

In recent years the balance has been much too far in the direction of flexibility and security for the employers at the cost of the workers. It is now widely recognised that every single labour market in the EU is more flexible today than it was 20 years ago. What we need to see is a concerted commitment to the security part of the discussion because workers have already delivered on the flexibility – over­delivering in many cases with a bonfire of employment protection legislation.

Right to protection against precarious work

A key goal of the EPSR must be to tackle the range of problems that workers experience when they try to exercise their already existing EU employment rights. In addition, new rights are needed to address new problems.The EPSR needs to reverse the trends at EU and MS level that allow employers to distance themselves from their responsibilities.

A critical area is the rejection of the employment relationship. This fundamentally denies workers the opportunity to effectively exercise their EU employment rights. And all too often, the rights of workers are placed one or two steps behind the rights of the employer.

There is inadequate protection for workers who report abuses. Costly proceedings and the absence of a clear right for workers to be represented by their trade unions combine with ineffective enforcement mechanisms at Member State level to undermine workers’ confidence that their rights are taken seriously.

The damage caused by the absence of effective protection is felt not only by workers, their families and communities, but also by responsible businesses, and by the EU and its MS. Meanwhile, the benefits, profits and competitive advantage accrue solely to the employers who are allowed to play the system. The well­being of the EU depends on our ability to hold those who employ workers and enjoy the fruits of their labour fully accountable. 

3. Secure professional transitions

Right to free and quality placement services + Right to paid educational leave ensuring portability of entitlements

The EPSR must support secure transitions between education and work, between work and periods of unemployment and career advancement in work by providing appropriate social security support so that workers remain secure during periods of unemployment, along with steps to increase worker employability. This is delivered by promoting work­based learning in all its forms, with special attention to apprenticeships, and by involving social partners, companies, chambers and Vocational Education Providers, as well as by stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship. This means investment in education and training, in particular Vocational Education and Training, as a means to develop all levels of skills to adapt to the changing needs of the labour market, as well as workers’ own ambitions. We must also recognise that increasing opportunities for skills development further up the labour market can create knock­on opportunities further down. Education and training is not a zero­sum game. Employers have a major responsibility to invest in their workforce, and provide progression routes and career development opportunities. 

4. Active support for employment

Building a strong social dimension in Europe means ending the unacceptable levels of unemployment Europe is facing, especially among young workers and women. Long­term unemployment of over 12 months is a particular problem. Reversing the austerity measures that created recession and deflation, particularly in the Eurozone, is therefore essential.

Right to youth employment including that all people under the age of 25 years shall receive a good­quality offer within a period of 4 months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.

Public investment for quality job creation and higher wages for sustainable and more equal growth are the fundamental pillars of a new economic strategy. This means a general pay rise.

Public investment has to be included in the top priorities for the EPSR as an overarching approach supporting all the other social measures.

Public investment has to be targeted on hard and soft infrastructure, networks, innovation and research, quality public services, education and training, social investment, etc. Reformed and fairer taxation systems can help to pay for public investment. Large multinational corporations in particular must pay their way.
A European industrial policy is needed, as a policy for Just Transition in sectors like the green economy, digitalisation and automation.

The Investment Plan proposed by President Juncker has to be continued, but available public funding has to be increased and the impact of the plan on quality job creation has to be enhanced and monitored. 

5. Gender equality and work­life balance

A new framework on equality between women and men covering the period after 2015, followed by a Council decision, is needed. The Commission’s silence regarding the lack in this regard is not acceptable and shows that it is not listening to the concerns of EU citizens on this vital issue.

Equal treatment policies need to be reinforced to promote gender equality in the European labour market. It is also high time to close the gender pay and pension gaps. Companies should be obliged to undertake equal pay audits as well as provide transparency of pay and salary system and their application.

In order to promote gender equality and strengthen Europe’s competitiveness, it is vital to improve the legislative and non­legislative framework of maternity leave as well as other leave provisions, including carers’ leave. Despite the existing EU directives, namely the maternity leave directive and the parental leave directive, policies have not significantly contributed to improving gender equality, i.e. by increasing a greater and more equal participation of women in the labour market. It is for these reasons that the European Commission must come forward with a revised maternity leave directive, a revised parental leave directive, a new directive on paternity leave as well as a new directive on carers’ leave. The existing directives on work­life balance must be strengthened by allowing for more leave time, be fully paid, individual and non­transferable. More working arrangements which reflect the flexibility needs of workers, properly monitored and time­bound, could help establish a better work­life balance for parents and/or carers. The Commission and the Member States need to ensure that the Barcelona targets on child care are properly applied and implemented.

6. Equal opportunities

Right to equal treatment of workers whatever their status

Youth unemployment deserves particular attention and the Pillar of Social Rights should provide for continuation and full implementation of the European Youth Guarantee, including: 

Prohibiting unfair discriminatory minimum wage rates, for example for young people on the basis of age;

A guaranteed offer and intervention within four months after leaving the education system and/or unemployment; implemented, in the long term, as a universal guarantee;

Guaranteed high quality standards of job offers, trainings, traineeships and apprenticeships, particularly in sectors where job creation will be important in the future;

Measures to improve trust in institutions and increase the institutional capacity for delivering services. Crucial aspects are adequate financing and human resources ensuring a high quality guidance service for young people;

Carefully designed interventions to meet the needs of the target population in order to respond to the heterogeneity of the youth population;

Investing in more ambitious and long­term funding so as to guarantee effective outcomes from the implementation of measures. The continuation of the budgetary lines beyond 2016 has to be ensured. A benchmark in terms of appropriate funding of the Youth Guarantee is the estimate of € 21 bn per year made by the ILO. 

7. Conditions of employment

Improved enforcement of existing rights and establishing new rights

A key goal of the EPSR must be to tackle the range of problems that workers experience when they try to exercise their already existing EU employment rights. In addition, new rights are needed to address new problems.The EPSR needs to reverse the legal trends at EU and Member State level that allow employers to distance themselves from their responsibilities under the social acquis, in particular the EU employment Directives.

Precarious work arrangements mean many workers are prevented from exercising legal rights. In particular, growing numbers of online platform and self­employed workers need adequate protection and enforcement. We also want improved information, consultation and representation for workers. Along with new rights to address unfair working conditions.

Right to security in employment, through information rights, a written contract of employment, representation by trade unions, the right to collective bargaining
Right to dignity at work
Right to protection as well against unfair dismissal (with the obligation to reinstatement) and in case of a probation period
Right to reasonable working time
Right to safety and health at work
Right to effective enforcement
Right to presumption of an employment relationship
Right to the most favourable conditions

8. Wages

Europe needs a pay rise

The objective of a pay rise can be achieved through: Ending the dismantling of systems and coverage of collective bargaining, as well as ending wage cuts or wage freezes;

Increasing the number of workers covered by collective agreements;

Setting targets, with social partners, to raise the level of minimum wages – where these exist – for example to no less than the ILO recommended level of 60% of the median wage in each country, while taking steps to move progressively towards higher living wages;

Promoting upward wage convergence (particularly between Eastern and Western Europe). This is essential to combat wage exploitation and unfair competition between workers and between companies; Bargaining and more effective extension mechanisms could be major instruments to achieve this end, and should therefore be supported at EU level through the EPSR. Measures could include capacity building and addressing the conflicting requirements of the EU fiscal, free movement, freedom to provide services and competition rules; The legal protection and extension of collective bargaining coverage, including wages, for vulnerable workers including self­employed workers and workers in precarious situations;

Reinforcing all public procurement rules to ensure that they respect collective agreements when awarding public contracts, including rigorous and ongoing contract compliance. This means that no public contract should be awarded when the workers are not covered by a collective agreement with the representative trade union(s)

9. Health and safety at work

Right to a high level of healthy and safe working conditions and to participate in setting prevention policy promoting safe and healthy workplaces

The right to safe and healthy work: the focus must be on prevention along with greater recognition of and support for workplace safety reps, promoting health supervision, and the development of systems to ensure that realistic and equitable mechanisms exist to deal with personal injury claims and occupational accident and illness benefits in an efficient and effective manner.

The right to protection against insecurity in employment: by placing limits on the practices that create insecurity at work, including prohibiting exploitative zero­hour contracts, if­and­when contracts and on­call arrangements, along with providing proactive protection such as the right to full­time work, adequate notice of working arrangements and support in restructuring situations; as well as protection in case of dismissal.
The right to reasonable working time: promoting work­life balance and including sufficient notice of working schedules, restrictions on on­call work and after­hours calls and emails.

10. Social dialogue and involvement of workers

Right to form and join a trade union, right to collective bargaining and collective action including the right to strike as well as the right to social dialogue, information and consultation as well as participation, all of which are also to be promoted at relevant levels.

The right to representation at work and in the board room: including a general EU framework on information, consultation and board­level representation with a Directive introducing a new and integrated architecture for workers’ involvement in European company forms and providing for industrial democracy; strengthening of European Works Councils and establishing an adequate EU framework for restructuring. This must include measures to ensure gender equality.

The right to collective bargaining: including protection for workers (including self­employed workers) to organise in a trade union and to bargain collectively and take collective action, including strike action. Also adequate and effective protection against acts of anti­union discrimination.

The right to freedom of expression: including protection from victimisation and dismissal for ‘whistle­blowers’, outlawing ‘blacklisting’ and offering redress and compensation to victims. 

11. Integrated social benefits and services

Welfare systems need to be about rights, not just assistance.

Right to good quality social protection benefits, in particular to those based on all branches of social security and social assistance systems ensuring a decent standard of living

Right to provision of good quality, availability, affordability and accessibility of social services adequately financed and provided by specifically qualified professionals

Right to effective integration of all social benefits and services ensuring a decent living of the persons concerned

The European Pillar of Social Rights must bring about tangible improvements in living standards, not just in terms of income but also issues affecting the quality of people's lives and their ability to work, such as public services including access to child and elderly care, transport, health and housing. It must also improve incomes for those who rely on social protection. Social welfare needs to be increased in real terms and substantial progress achieved towards targets for decent living standards for people who rely on welfare for tackling social exclusion and inadequate income, whether due to under­employment, unemployment, old age or disability, along with the right to occupational benefits. Social protection must cover people in and out of work, regardless of the employment contract and, in particular, be extended to the self­employed. 

12. Health care and sickness benefits

Right to good quality public preventive and curative health care

Right to good quality public rehabilitation
Right to provision of good quality, affordable and accessible public health and social services adequately financed and provided by qualified professionals, including long­term care and childcare, safe and affordable social housing for those who need it;

13. Pensions

Universal, public, solidarity­ based and adequate retirement and old age pensions must be granted for all.

Public pension sustainability must be pursued by increasing employment rates and quality jobs across all working age groups, and improving working and employment conditions. The demand by the Commission to automatically align the legal retirement age with life expectancy has to be decisively rejected. Member States must fix legal retirement age taking into account a series of factors impacting life expectancy in good health (such as the exposure to arduous work, life expectancy gaps along educational and integration levels etc.), dignity and inclusion, as well as labour market conditions and capacity.

Public funding must be engaged in order to ensure adequate pension incomes after a whole life at work. Pension system sustainability and pension adequacy, in the given European demographic, employment and economic situation, cannot be in fact merely charged on labour and retirees’ income.

Public systems must keep into account the situations of millions of workers in Europe, particularly youngsters and self-employed, suffering insecure, atypical employment, periods of involuntary unemployment and working time reduction. Public expenditure must be engaged in compensation systems which ensure adequate pension incomes to those who have inadequate or no pension entitlement at all, due to fragmented and discontinuous contributions.

European minimum standards for publicly funded pension systems must be identified, with reference to adequacy criteria and prevention of risk of poverty, in order to allow decent living standards for all.

Pension reforms must ensure certain and transparent eligibility conditions to all.

14. Unemployment benefits

Good levels of financial security against periods of unemployment have to be regarded as essential feature of labour market policy as well as important part of social protection. However, in the Commission draft unemployment benefits are placed solely in the chapter on adequate social protections. This in incorrect as unemployment benefits must not be separated from broader labour market policy. We cannot have policies developed in silos if we are to deliver the secure labour markets that workers in Europe need to face the current and future challenges.

On the actual content, of course every person in Europe needs access to financial support during periods of unemployment that is decent in both level and length. However, the proposal by the Commission includes elements which are not targeted at strengthening social rights. This is for example evident when the proposal implicitly calls for the duration of unemployment benefits being not too long. Such principles which may put social rights under pressure have to be rejected.

15. Minimum income

Schemes, at an adequate level, should be introduced in all national social protection legislation, as part of an overall policy to strengthen social protection systems.

A European framework directive on an adequate minimum income should establish common principles, definitions and methods for minimum income schemes in the MS ­to ensure guaranteed living standards and social inclusion. Such schemes need to be inclusive and embedded in a broader EU and national policy response while combining income support with active inclusion and access to quality services.

16. Disability benefits

This point should be part of the paragraph on equal treatment and non­discrimination (see above).

  • promote employment for disabled people on an equal basis with non­disabled colleagues and in compliance with the terms of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (to which the EU is a signatory).
  • consider a more holistic approach to the need of assistance and long term care of people with disabilities
  • need of investment in training highly skilled carers

17. Long­term care

A common European standard must be introduced via a directive, on the right to quality and professional long­ term care, including provision for quality care, leave entitlements for carers and compensation in respect of care leave. Besides being a ground for investment, quality­job creation and inclusive growth, it must ensure dignity and quality services to all dependants, with a series of services and integrated provisions, whose cost must not withdraw the right to LTC.

18. Childcare

Right to effective measures against child poverty

Moreover, family­related leave and flexible working arrangements should be combined with the availability, affordability, accessibility and quality of early childhood education, and care facilities for the elderly or for people otherwise in need of care. A proposal for a carers’ leave directive should be designed so as not to reinforce existing gender stereotypes and practices. Investment in early childhood and care should be part of the European Investment Plan. Equally important would be the attainment of the Barcelona targets on childcare via the consistent application of the country­specific recommendations and through the European Social Fund, for example.

19. Housing

Housing policy has to ensure the provision of the whole population with high quality, safe and affordable housing opportunities. A variety of different instruments are of importance in this context.

20. Access to essential services

Right to general, non­discriminatory access to high quality, safe and affordable services of general interest. The tendency of EU internal market and competition rules and austerity policies putting pressure on services of general interest needs to be reversed. Adequate regulatory and fiscal policy space for the regulation and provision of services of general interest needs to be guaranteed.

For example, natural and energy resources must be regarded as common goods whose preservation and democratic management must be ensured by the public authorities. Access to resources, energy and water are fundamental rights that the European Union and its Member States must safeguard and guarantee.

The EU institutions and Member States also need to ensure, for example, that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation; that water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation; and that the EU increases its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.