EU social summit with high expectations: But demands for social union have not prevailed


The leaders of the EU and the Member States, as well as the social partners, have met in Porto on the social dimension of the EU. For some, what is not legally possible is a political objective.

The Portuguese Presidency had set the issue of the social dimension of Europe as a priority. A highlight of the Council Presidency was therefore the Social Summit in Porto on 7/8 May, the first since the Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, in November 2017. At that time, the European Pillar of Social Rights was proclaimed with 20 principles - now the intention was to commit to its implementation: A development that continues despite legal concerns.

Since the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, more and more EU social legislation has been presented and adopted. In the process, the Pillar has been used as a basis for legitimacy, although according to the preamble it is not legally binding and should not affect the division of competences between the EU and the Member States. Finally, the Pillar has even become the EU's work programme in the social field - the Commission's Action Plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights listed initiatives and activities for each area.

However, this tendency is not shared by all EU actors - in particular the member states have strongly diverging views on how far a social Europe should go. In the run-up to the summit, some member states published various non-papers: while a large group of member states promoted the retention of national competences, a smaller group strongly advocated a social union with significantly expanded competences.

Although the aim of the Social Summit was to advance the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, a balanced declaration by the Heads of State and Government was achieved: The commitment to a social Europe was linked in many places in the declaration of the heads of state and government with clear references to national competence. Similar formulations can also be found in the declaration of the EU institutions with the social partners.