Written by: Bojana Ružić, Coordinator for European Integration and International Cooperation, Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia
Should the European Union still worry only about economic growth and competitiveness regarding job creation within the Community? Are member states tackling their own social issues during the period of recovery from the crisis? Should the EU respond to issues faced daily by its citizens, both in the workplace, as well as their private lives?
The arrival of Jean-Claude Juncker at the head of the European Commission in late 2015 started a great debate over these issues, along with the creation of the so-called European Pillar of Social Rights. It would be based on the social foundations of the EU, complementing them so as to guide policies in numerous areas of importance for the good operation and equitability of the labour market and social assistance system in member states. The final phase of this process if now beginning, after the consultations concluded on the last day of 2016, as well as the resolution adopted in the European Parliament on 19 January 2017. Key decision makers at the European Union level and individual states, as well as representatives of unions, employer associations and non-government organizations included in the process since the very beginning, have met in Brussels on 23 January 2017. The main subject of the conference, as a result of several months of consultations with all the above stakeholders, were equitable living and work conditions, greater and better opportunities for youth, better jobs and greater social security, targeted social support as a guarantee that none will be left behind. A united message was sent, stating that European policy must go hand in hand with social progress. The European Commission proposal on the further instrumentalization of the European Pillar of Social Rights is expected in March this year. In this phase, it will represent an obligation for Eurozone countries, but other EU states will also be able to join.
The Employment and Social Policy Reform Programme (ESRP), as part of the European Union accession process, was adopted by the Government of the Republic of Serbia in May 2016. It was developed through multiple rounds of consultations with relevant stakeholders and the adoption of their comments and suggestions. The European Commission also repeatedly commended this document. The activities of the working group of the Government of Serbia for its implementation and monitoring will begin in February, at the time the European Pillar of Social Rights is being defined, thereby making the ESRP more current than ever.
Serbia has already recognized challenges regarding the labour market, the harmonization of knowledge and skills acquired through education with social and economic needs, poverty, child and social protection. An increase in the employment rate, greater participation of women in self-employment programmes, analysis of Government expenses for youth employment, and an increase in the number of social protection services are just some of the improvements made in accordance with the goals of the Programme during the preceding period. However, the lengthy list contains measures such as the adoption of the Law on Social Entrepreneurship, improvement of the quality assurance system for education at all levels, increasing the education level of vulnerable groups, improvements of the system of cooperation between social work centres and other bodies in order to improve the protection of beneficiaries and improve the accessibility of public facilities, still awaiting implementation.
The Employment and Social Policy Reform Programme brings together the goals and programmes of the Government of Serbia, individual ministries and institutions, with the civil and business sector also capable of contributing to its implementation and to improving its focus. Therefore, the Programme represents a key platform on Serbia’s path towards the EU, regarding the issues it covers. Once this document is operationally harmonized with other strategic documents – particularly the Economic Reform Programme and the IPA strategic document, Serbia will be ready to join European social policy and employment policy trends and be a more than equal participant in the European Pillar of Social Rights.