Dynamics and tools of ?upward convergence' in the eu social policy: assessing the european states' performance under the european pillar of social rights

Author:Cristina Patrascu
Position:Senior Lecturer, PhD, 'Dunarea de Jos' University of Galati, Romania, Faculty of Juridical, Social and Political Sciences
Pages:67-78
SUMMARY

The present article proposes an analysis of the various ‘facets’ of convergence with a special focus on the concept of ‘upward convergence’ which was set in place to ensure a better coordination of the EU and its members in the field of social policy. Ensuring a stronger socioeconomic convergence to achieve better living standards for the European citizens and reduce inequalities, particularly after the economic crisis that has shaken Europe, has become a top priority for the EU. In order to realize this objective, the EU uses a variety of tools and mechanisms, both legal and financial. One of the newest and highly debated legal instruments created by the EU is the European Pillar of Social Rights. The article offers a comparative analysis of the levels of performance as well as of the concrete results obtained by various governments in their efforts to implement the objectives of EU social policy. The analysis starts from the assumption that the European states have different levels of economic development and resilience, a fact that makes even more difficult a strong convergence and synchronicity in the implementation of these measures. Our research intends to call attention to the fact that EU’s legislation and policies have a positive impact on the performance of the governments in the socioeconomic field. The methods used are both qualitative and quantitative, consisting of an evaluation and a brief comparative study based on the scientific literature in the field, but also of the presentation of data and indicators that clearly show the levels of performance and the achievements of different governments. The main general conclusion that may be formulated is that on the one hand, the EU is making efforts at establishing all the necessary instruments to enhance convergence. On the other hand, between countries there are both convergent and divergent evolutions and countries may be grouped according to the level(s) of their accomplishments (which differ from case to case) which makes it obvious that some of them do need more time and (harder) work to reach the established targets.

 
CONTENT
Dynamics and tools of ’upward concergence” in the eu social policy… 67
DYNAMICS AND TOOLS OF ‘UPWARD CONVERGENCE’ IN
THE EU SOCIAL POLICY: ASSESSING THE EUROPEAN
STATES’ PERFORMANCE UNDER THE EUROPEAN PILLAR OF
SOCIAL RIGHTS
Cristina PTRAŞCU
Abstract: The present article proposes an analysis of the various ‘facets’ of convergence with a
special focus on the concept of ‘upward convergence’ which was set in place to ensure a better
coordination of the EU and its members in the field of social policy. Ensuring a stronger
socioeconomic convergence to achieve better living standards for the European citizens and reduce
inequalities, particularly after the economic crisis that has shaken Europe, has become a top priority
for the EU. In order to realize this objective, the EU uses a variety of tools and mechanisms, both
legal and financial. One of the newest and highly debated legal instruments created by the EU is the
European Pillar of Social Rights.
The article offers a comparative analysis of the levels of performance as well as of the concrete
results obtained by various governments in their efforts to implement the objectives of EU social
policy. The analysis starts from the assumption that the European states have different levels of
economic development and resilience, a fact that makes even more difficult a strong convergence and
synchronicity in the implementation of these measures.
Our research intends to call attention to the fact that EU’s legislation and policies have a
positive impact on the performance of the governments in the socioeconomic field.
The methods used are both qualitative and quantitative, consisting of an evaluation and a brief
comparative study based on the scientific literature in the field, but also of the presentation of data
and indicators that clearly show the levels of performance and the achievements of different
governments.
The main general conclusion that may be formulated is that on the one hand, the EU is making
efforts at establishing all the necessary instruments to enhance convergence. On the other hand,
between countries there are both convergent and divergent evolutions and countries may be grouped
according to the level(s) of their accomplishments (which differ from case to case) which makes it
obvious that some of them do need more time and (harder) work to reach the established targets.
Key words: Public Law, European Union Law, convergence, government performance, social
policy, European Pillar of Social Rights.
The article was prepared for the International Law Conference, "Current Issues within EU and
EU Member States: Converging and Diverging Legal Trends", 3rd edition, organized by the Faculty of
Law – Transilvania University of Braşov on the 29th-30th of November 2019. All links were last
accessed on 11 November 2019.
 Senior Lecturer, PhD – „Dunrea de Jos” University of Galai, Romania, Faculty of Juridical,
Social and Political Sciences (cristina.patrascu@ugal.ro).
Law Review special issue, Decembre 2019, pp. 67-78
68 CRISTINA PĂTRAŞCU
Introduction
In the last decades, following the recent and strongly perturbing economic
crisis, the EU has shown a heightened interest in supporting its member states in
the process of national structural reforms oriented towards achieving greater
economic and social growth, legal and political stability and deeper levels of social
cohesion both within and among European countries. In promoting its vision and
strategic activities for creating a better and faster adjustable public administration
and a more competitive single market, the EU seems more aware than ever, that in
order to achieve these targets it has to work hard together with the national
governments to reduce the current disparities existing between various regions or
various states on its territory. In its recent efforts, the EU focused on the necessity
of creating a consolidated legal and strategic framework to enhance ‘upward
convergence’ and the coordination between its own actions, policies and
programmes and those of its members. All these reasons urged the EU to elaborate
and set in motion several tools and policies, based on the provisions of the EU
Treaties and other legal acts issued by its institutions, and backed up by a series of
mechanisms (e.g. the European Semester) and financial programmes to ensure
their achievement.
At the core of these efforts stands the initiative of improving the living
conditions of the European citizens, which compelled the EU institutions to make
of the social dimension a top priority. EU’s commitment to address and materialize
this political priority is expressed through various acts and documents among
which the European Pillar of Social Rights is the most prominent. Together with the
complex procedure known as the ‘European Semester’, this document also stands
for EU’s efforts to set up common standards and tools that are much needed to
enhance convergence. Convergence has come to the fore of the political EU
discourse and agenda in the last years, being considered not only a ‘political
buzzword’1 (as a high official of the European Commission put it). Its importance
as a value of the European integration itself is more and more often acknowledged
and made reference to, so that it became a topic of research and monitoring of the
European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions
(from now on referred to as Eurofound2).
1 V. Dombrovskis, Commission Vice-President, Reforms, Productivity and Wages – What Drives
Convergence, Speech at the EPSC Conference ‘Reinventing Convergence’, Brussels, 19 October 2017,
available at https://ec.europa.eu/epsc/sites/epsc/files/reinventing_convergence_-_speech_-
_valdis_dombrovskis.pdf.
2 Eurofound – tripartite EU agency assisting in the development of better social and work-related
policies.
Dynamics and tools of ’upward concergence” in the eu social policy… 69
1. Facets of ‘convergence’: a multidimensional concept and an EU priority
The concept of ‘convergence’ has been used on various occasions to reflect
various realities. There are instances when it is referred to as one concept with
different meanings, as there are also situations when speakers refer to different
notions of convergence applicable to different phenomena. To make these aspects
clearer, a brief analysis of the specific characteristics and possible uses of this/these
notions will be presented.
One of the best known distributions of ‘convergence’ is in association with
‘legal’, hence the expression ‘legal convergence’ that has very often occurred in the
context of ensuring the application of the EU’s acquis communautaire, uniformly
within all member states, as well as in the context of the EU’s various enlargements
with the accession of new members. Legal convergence, with its close ‘relative’ -
‘institutional convergence’ - means harmonization and compliance with the EU
acquis and is viewed as a driving force for structural reform processes3.
Other collocations of this term have also appeared related to the topic of the
EU’s single market and economic progress. For instance various notions such as:
‘cyclical convergence’ (explained as synchronic progress of the European countries
along the economic cycle), ‘nominal convergence’ (accomplished via nominal
variables, like interest rates or inflation) or ‘real convergence’ (whereby poorer
countries catch up with richer ones) have been identified in the European
discourse and research on convergence4.
The newest addition to the seemingly growing lexical family of the term
convergence is ‘upward convergence’, used to designate ‘a trend whereby EU
Member States’ performance in a given domain or range of domains improves,
while the gaps between Member States diminish’5. The ‘upward convergence’ is
investigated thoroughly by one of the latest research reports elaborated by
Eurofound, representing ‘the first thematic output of the research strand entitled
“Monitoring convergence in the European Union”6. The notion is analysed in close
connection with economic and social convergence and their opposites: ‘economic
divergence’ and ‘social divergence’. Whereas socioeconomic convergence is seen as
a ‘political promise on the part of EU’7, ‘economic divergence undermines the
promise of shared economic prosperity across Europe’. At the same time, the
3 D. Bogov, Convergence of South-Eastern Europe to the EU: Between the Dream and the Reality, in
I. P. Szekely (ed.), Faces of Convergence, The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies,
2019, p. 30.
4 V. Dombrovskis, op. cit., p. 1-2, available at https://wiiw.ac.at ›faces-of-convergence-dlp-4908
5 Eurofound, Upward convergence in employment and socioeconomic factors, Publications Office of the
European Union, Luxemburg, 2019, p. 1, available at http://eurofound.link/ef18042.
6 Eurofound, op. cit., 2019, p. 1.
7 Ibidem.
70 CRISTINA PĂTRAŞCU
existence of ‘social divergence poses an obstacle to the European integration
project’s ultimate goal of improving living and working conditions’8.
The importance of this concept is therefore undeniable for the narrower
context of this (limited) research as it is for the far greater context of the European
integration. As a preliminary conclusion, it may be stated that convergence should
be understood as a ‘multidimensional’ concept that encompasses many facets:
economic, social, legal, structural, real, environmental convergence, surpassing the
more traditional, limited view that highlights only one aspect of convergence. Real
connections and mutual reinforcement exist between these different phenomena
covered by the notion of convergence and these aspects have to be carefully taken
into consideration by researchers and practitioners alike.
2. Legal tools for enhancing socioeconomic convergence
The European integration has been based from the outset on a bundle of
fundamental values such as: economic progress, the creation of a single market,
institutions organized on the basis of the rule of law and the commitment to create
and guarantee the fundamental human rights and better living and working
conditions for its citizens. These values have formed the foundation for every
treaty and legal act, policy, action or declaration of the EU. Harmonization with
and integration of all these values within the juridical framework of each of the
member states has been well established as a prerequisite and accepted by all
states that form the nucleus of the EU. In other words, convergence is in its turn a
fundamental value whose importance has been acknowledged and stated as such
in the Treaty on the European Union, as well as in the Treaty on the Functioning of
the European Union (TFEU). Direct reference to the concept of convergence for
instance is made into the Preamble of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and
in various articles of the two treaties (art. 24, art. 32 of the TEU; Art. 121, Art. 140 of
the TFEU). There are also the specific Protocols (Protocol on the convergence
criteria referred to in the initial article 109j, renumbered as Article 121 and then
renumbered again as Article 140 of the TFEU; and Protocol on the excessive deficit
procedure) that contain other necessary rules in the field of ‘economic
convergence’.
These legal provisions introduced the concept of ‘economic convergence’,
which in the TEU appears in the Preamble part. The member states are urged ‘to
achieve the strengthening and convergence of their economies and to establish an
economic and monetary union, including…, a single and stable currency’. In its
turn, Art.140 in TFEU states the euro convergence criteria that form the content of
the concept of ‘nominal convergence’. Consequently, the economic convergence
stands out as a primary principle within the legal framework of convergence.
8 Ibidem.
Dynamics and tools of ’upward concergence” in the eu social policy… 71
Nevertheless, looking back at the texts of the first documents elaborated by the
‘founding fathers’, we can find evidence that the founders had in mind the
principle of social convergence as well. The Schuman Declaration (9 May 1950)
emphasized the necessity of creating an organization that will end conflicts and
secure peace in Europe and added a reference to the principle of ‘equalisation and
improvement of the living conditions of workers in these industries’9. The notion
of ‘equalisation’ clearly refers to social convergence and in the founders’ vision it
should have emerged from the ‘economic convergence’. Certainly, social
convergence did not result ‘naturally’ from the economic convergence and as it can
be observed it has taken a long time and effort to develop and be settled as a
concept and policy in its own right on the EU agenda.
An important step was taken with the introduction of an ‘horizontal social
clause’ by the Treaty of Lisbon, which is expressed in Article 9 of the TFEU. This
article highlights the social dimension through inscribing the requirement that all
policies should take into account the promotion of ‘a high level of employment’,
the guarantee of ‘adequate social protection’ and the ‘fight against social
exclusion’10.
The re-launching of the theme of convergence, intermingled with a (slowly,
but surely) growing additional thread represented by social cohesion, seems to
have taken a greater impetus in the aftermath of the economic crisis. The crisis has
had, among other negative effects, a negative impact also on the convergent trends
manifested in the economic and social domains. These convergent tendencies
characterised the activities and performances of the national governments and the
European institutions in the pre-crisis time11, but the economic recession caused
them to go-slow and even to reverse in some areas: for instance, divergent trends
were manifested primarily in the field of employment and living conditions. In
order to re-establish the situation existing before the recession, converging courses
of action have been pursued and rebuilt since 2013. To some extent, these trends
have been recovered, but EU officials and researchers have already flagged up that
there are still persistent divergences particularly in the social field. Divergency, as
already stated, has been perceived as negative and even disruptive, because such
evolutions ‘undermine’ the accomplishment of EU’s social objectives, a
responsibility assumed within the integration project long before.
A new stage in the development of tools and measures meant to enhance
social convergence was marked with the EU renewed commitment to set up a
beneficial framework for balanced and sustainable growth and for social and
9The Schuman Declaration, 9 May 1950, available at https://europa.eu/european-union/about-
eu/symbols/europe-day/schuman-declaration_en.
10 Article 9, Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of The European Union, Official
Journal of the European Union, C 326/49, 26. 10. 2012, available at https://cutt.ly/ceA9QWE
11 Eurofound, Upward Convergence in the EU: Concepts, measurements and indicators, Publications
Office of the European Union, Luxemburg, 2018, p. 1.
72 CRISTINA PĂTRAŞCU
territorial cohesion within the Europe 2020 Strategy12. This emblematic document
set in motion several important mechanisms of coordination that consolidated the
European system of (economic) governance. Among these mechanisms the most
relevant are country-reporting and country-specific recommendations and the
establishment of a complex system of integrated monitoring of social, employment
and environmental goals. For the first time, data and quantifiers are advanced to
monitor governments’ performance, not only in economic terms, but also in other
important fields, such as social inclusion, innovation and employment levels.
Unfortunately, it can be denied that social and economic divergence persists
after the crisis and that increasing disparities within and between the member
states seem to get more visible. As a reaction to these negative conditions, the EU
placed a stronger focus on the topic of social convergence, making efforts at filling
the gap in legal, financial and political terms and inscribing in its agenda the
priority of ‘upward convergence’ in the domain of social cohesion and higher
living standards for the European citizens.
The current political debate advances as a fundamental principle to be set in
place the idea that socioeconomic convergence has to be promoted at all levels, a
goal whose importance is based on the ‘shared conviction that the future of the EU
lies in preserving diversity but correcting possible asymmetries while moving
closer together’13.
This stream of thought is closely linked to the discussion on reforming the
Economic and Monetary Union14 in order to establish a stronger economic
governance in which social policy has its own status and instruments. To enhance
harmonisation in this field, a complex monitoring, evaluating and coordination
procedure was initiated in 2010, namely the European Semester. This is an annual
cycle, divided in two parts, and offers a common framework for the
implementation of economic policies within the EU15.
Furthermore, convergent trends in the socioeconomic field have manifested
more recently, from the appointment of Juncker Commission onwards. The notion
of upward social convergence occurred frequently in the President Juncker’s
discourse in 2015, and in parallel in the Five Presidents’ Report. This report
analyses into detail the topic of economic and social convergence, emphasizing its
importance on the road towards social cohesion. Another significant aspect is that
12 Communication from the Commission, Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and
inclusive growth, COM(2010) 2020 final, Brussels 3.3.2010.
13 Eurofound, op.cit., 2018, p. 1
14 European Commission, Commission recommendation on the European Pillar of Social Rights,
COM(2017) 2006 final Brussels; European Commission, Reflection Paper on the deepening of the
Economic and Monetary Union, COM(2017) 291 final Brussels.
15The European Semester, available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/
economic-and-fiscal-policy-coordination/eu-economic-governance-monitoring -prevention- correction/
european-semester_en.
Dynamics and tools of ’upward concergence” in the eu social policy… 73
both economic and social convergence are part of the same political agenda for the
first time16.
In order to support positive action in this domain, a legal document has been
elaborated in 2017 and was given the name of European Pillar of Social Rights.
This document reflects a newly gained understanding on the part of the EU’s
institutions that intense efforts have to be made to sustain the social and economic
growth of less developed countries in Central and Eastern Europe as well as in
other countries, while deepening convergence in terms of political and social
policy standards.
3. The European Pillar of Social Rights – a ‘soft law’ instrument
An important step forward was made with the Rome Declaration, signed on 25
March 2017, which expressed the call for a ‘safe and secure’, ‘prosperous and
sustainable’, ‘stronger’ and ‘social Europe’: ‘a Union which, based on sustainable
growth, promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and
convergence’17.
The Rome Declaration opened the way to the proclamation in November 2017
of the European Pillar of Social Rights that reflects an EU response to the
destructive effects of the 2008 crisis on European society. The document rests on 20
principles which are not new but were formulated in various documents and at
various times to protect and guarantee the respect of the fundamental rights of the
European citizens. According to the European Pillar, these rights can be grouped
into three main categories: 1) equal opportunities and access to the labour market,
2) fair working conditions and 3) social protection and inclusion.
The European Pillar role is important as it continues and extends the principles
established in 2013 in the Social Investment Package and establishes a series of
conditions to improve the pursuance and effective realization of the objective of
upward social and economic convergence and. The European Pillar contribution is
also relevant for the change of perspective it initiates, namely the belief that
economic and social convergence are interdependent. This new idea marks a
departure from the classical view according to which the economic performance is
a precondition for social development18. The philosophy underlying the Pillar’s
provisions is that investment in citizens will have a positive outcome, as better
working and living conditions will eventually lead to greater social inclusion and
economic growth.
Since its proclamation, The Pillar has formed the subject of heated and
variegated debate. While praised for its content, particularly the way it elaborates
16Eurofound, op.cit., 2018, p. 7-8
17 Council of the EU, Statements and Remarks, Rome Declaration, 149/17, 25/03/2017, available
at https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/03/25/rome-declaration/pdf.
18 Eurofound, op.cit., 2018, p. 8.
74 CRISTINA PĂTRAŞCU
on social rights, ensuring protection of these rights at a higher level than the
existing one, it has more often than not criticised and even dubbed ineffective or
irrelevant because of its juridical form.
The document was delivered under the form of a recommendation adopted by
the European Commission on the basis of the provisions of the Article 292 TFEU.
As expressly stated in Article 288 in TFEU, EU law is represented by regulations,
directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions. The main difference between
them is made by their binding or non-binding effect. Recommendations are
non-binding or soft law instruments, and the Pillar is such an instrument of
indirect action, which is intended to prepare the next stages of development,
mainly to determine the adoption of legislation at national level19. However, it
does not mean that soft law instruments have no legal effects. In the scientific
literature it is highlighted that soft law instruments may include wording which
suggest a (certain) binding nature and such wording may be similar to that of
directives or decisions20. The legal effects of this instrument will be highly
dependent of the way the Court of Justice will interpret and apply its principles
and provisions and on the number of cases in which its provisions will be invoked
before a law court.
Researchers have also observed21 that in the case of economic convergence and
the construction of a single European market, the legal instruments that were used
were binding directives. To ensure a stronger coordination of the governments’
actions, binding legal acts were associated with another instrument, namely the
introduction of country-specific recommendations, as a means of offering guidance
on policy measures in different fields. These binding legal instruments ensured the
implementation of the necessary measures in the economic domain and caused an
improvement of the economic governance.
To what extent the European Pillar of Social Rights will be effective still
remains to be seen. Even so, it has to be appreciated for the new perspective it
endorses and for the progress it illustrates in bringing the theme of social upward
convergence into the foreground. Moreover, the European Council (at its meeting
on 20 June 2019) reaffirmed the necessity to implement the European Pillar and
inscribed it as a priority in the New Strategic Agenda 2019-2024.
19 Z. Rasnaca, (Any) relevance of the European Pillar of Social Rights for the EU Law, November 2017,
available at https://europeanlawblog.eu/2017/11/17/any-relevance-of-the-european-pillar-of-
social-rights-for-eu-law/.
20 Meijers Committee, Standing Committee of experts on international immigration, refugee and
criminal law, 9 April 2008, available at https://www.commissie-meijers.nl/sites/all/files/cm1609_
note.pdf.
21 B. Vujic, EU Membership and Structural Policies in CESEE, in I. P. Szekely (ed.), Faces of
Convergence, The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, 2019, p. 166.
Dynamics and tools of ’upward concergence” in the eu social policy… 75
4. Measuring performance levels of Member States under the European
Pillar of Social Rights
For monitoring and evaluation of the performance of the member states, the
European Pillar is backed up by a Social Scoreboard, composed of 14 headline
indicators and additional 28 indicators to capture the situation in member states.
The Social Scoreboard identifies trends and performances across EU countries in
three areas related to the principles under the European Pillar, assessing the
progress towards a social triple ‘A’ for the EU as a whole. Its findings and results
are used within the process of the European Semester and are taken into account in
the elaboration of the Country Reports22.
Member states’ performance is analysed according to the levels and changes of
each indicator in comparison with the EU average. Then states are classified in
seven groups, namely: „best performers”, „better than average”, „good but to
monitor”, „on average/neutral”, „weak but improving”, „to watch” and „critical
situations”. The three chapters analysed in the Social Scoreboard are: equal
opportunities and access to the labour market, dynamic labour markets and fair
working conditions and public support/social protection and inclusion23.
A summary of the scoreboard analysis for the three domains shows that the
situation of the member states varies greatly. The Scoreboard reveals that the
majority of the countries are at least once pointed out to meet a challenge for one
headline indicator, except for Germany, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Sweden,
which are best performers. At the opposite pole, countries like Greece, Romania or
Italy are confronted with challenges and grouped under the label „critical
situations” or „to watch”, for more than 10 indicators, of which „critical situations”
are present for 7 (Greece), 4 (Romania) and 6 indicators (Italy). The overall
classification gathers together Croatia and Spain (9 challenges each), Bulgaria (with
8 challenges), Cyprus, Latvia and Portugal (each with 6 challenges). In comparison
to these categories, Netherlands is a „best performer” or „better than average” for
11 indicators, followed by Czech Republic and Sweden (10 indicators each),
Austria, Germany and Slovenia (8 indicators each)24.
22 Social Scoreboard, in European Commission, European Pillar of Social Rights, Social
Scoreboard, available at https://composite-indicators.jrc.ec.europa.eu/social-scoreboard/, consulted
on 8. 11. 2019
23 The Social Scoreboard, European Commission, Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion,
available at https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=1196&furtherNews=yes&news
Id=9163.
24Evidence from the social scoreboard (2019), in DRAFT JOINT EMPLOYMENT REPORT FROM
THE COMMISSION AND THE COUNCIL accompanying the Communication from the Commission
on the Annual Growth Survey 2019, Brussels, 21. 11. 2018, COM(2018) 761 final, p. 24 available at
https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1547650919951&uri=CELEX%3A52018DC07
61, consulted on 11. 11. 2019
76 CRISTINA PĂTRAŞCU
As compared to the 2018 edition of the Social Scoreboard, the overall
performance of the countries has improved, as the number of the domains in
which states have been confronted with challenges, has decreased. In one area,
only, public support/social protection and inclusion, the quality has slightly
deteriorated and the report points out that the most numerous problematic flags
appear in this filed, quantifying an average of 9.3 cases per indicator (of which 3.5
„critical situations”)25. However, the number of signposted states under the label
„critical situations” diminished from 14 in 2018, to 13 in 2019 (current exercise).
Whereas several states (such as Estonia, Malta and Portugal) have performed
slightly better and left this group, others (Hungary and Latvia) have been classified
in this group. The main conclusion remains that the social situation across the EU
as whole continues to get better entering into a new stage, as on the average for the
EU 13 out of 14 headline indicators have recorded an improvement according to
the results of the Social scoreboard (that used available data from 2016 or 2017)26.
The process of monitoring states’ performance according to the indicators of
the European Pillar of Social Rights is further enhanced by an additional
document, namely the Joint Employment Report (whose latest version is part of
the 2019 Autumn Package of the European Semester). This Report is elaborated on
the basis of the Article 148 of TFEU and its initial proposal by the European
Commission is a component of the Autumn Package within the European
Semester Cycle. The Joint Employment Report offers an annual overview of key
social developments in Europe as well as member states’ reform actions27. This
report incorporates a series of key indicators that can be used to assess and identify
convergent or divergent trends in the domain of social inclusion and protection
across European states28
Another important aspect that has to be taken into consideration when
analysing the member states’ performance in the field of social policy and their
capacity to enhance upward convergence is the quality of their institutions.
Scholars29 have emphasized the importance of quality of democracy and
governance as drivers for enhancing convergence within the European space.
Indicators such as the rule of law as well as the respect for the citizens’ rights are
included among the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI, 2019), a complex
measurement index that shows again the high quality of democracy in the Nordic
countries. According to this index, countries like Denmark, Sweden, Germany or
Austria rank first in the classification. Consequently, there are still a lot of work to
be done in order to improve the quality of the institutions, especially in newer
25 Evidence from the social scoreboard (2019), op. cit., p. 24
26 Evidence from the social scoreboard (2019), op. cit., p. 23
27 Ibidem, p. 2
28 Eurofound, op.cit., 2018, p. 34
29 B. Vujcic, EU Membership and Structural Policies in CESEE, in I. P. Szekely (ed.), Faces of
Convergence, The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, 2019, p. 166.
Dynamics and tools of ’upward concergence” in the eu social policy… 77
member states that lag behind the best performers. Applying the structural
reforms required by the EU institutions would ensure a higher quality of
democracy and would give a new stimulus for the convergence process.
Conclusions
Upward convergence in the EU has been pursued and accomplished
gradually, over the past decades, between member states. Although the concept
has been considered in close connection with the economic dimension of
convergence, its most recent evolutive trends have shifted the focus of attention on
the social dimension.
This shift has been caused by the real necessity of recovery after the economic
shock in 2008 which compelled the EU to reflect back on its original roots and act
firmly to regain its role of initiator, coordinator and manager of economic and
social progress. In order to reaffirm its commitment to the fundamental values of
integration, the EU decided to consolidate the social dimension of convergence,
using various legal, strategical and monitoring instruments, to ensure and develop
a coordinated action in this field. Among these instruments the European Pillar of
Social Rights, the two reports called the Four Presidents’ and the Five Presidents’
Report and the Social Scoreboard used within the European Semester have the
most substantial contribution to strengthen the social dimension of the integration
project.
Even though the European Pillar of Social Rights is a soft law instrument, the
use of soft law instruments in important domains (for instance freedom, security or
justice) is not unusual. In fact, the Meijers Committee observed the increased use of
soft law instruments in recent years and stated that ‘soft law instruments may not
be binding but they may have legal effects requiring EU institutions, authorities of
the Members States and (possibly) national courts to take them into account’30. At
the same time, the Committee acknowledged that soft law instruments ‘play a
useful role in the implementation of EU laws and policies’, but the use of these
instruments should be ‘subject of appropriate safeguards’31. Considering the fact
that the European Pillar was accompanied by a Social Scoreboard and linked to the
process of the European Semester whose data are also included in the Country
Reports, it can be said that EU is seeking ways to establish these „safeguards”.
Moreover, setting the implementation of the European Pillar among the priorities
of the New Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 reinforces the relevance of this document
for the social dimension of upward convergence.
30 Meijers Committee, Standing Committee of experts on international immigration, refugee and
criminal law, 9 April 2008, available at https://www.commissie-meijers.nl/sites/all/files/cm1609_
note.pdf.
31 Ibidem.
78 CRISTINA PĂTRAŞCU
Presenting the results of the evaluation carried out through the Social
Scoreboard, our research intends to call attention to the fact that EU’s legislation
and policies have a positive impact on the performance of the majority of
governments, urging them to take the necessary steps toward improving the
quality of their citizens’ life. The social dimension of Europe seems to gain more
and more prominence together with the economic one, being a facet of the complex
phenomenon of convergence and originating in its turn new (convergent) trends in
EU’s actions meant to reduce disparities and divergence among and within the
European countries.