Opinion & Analysis

Reaffirming Social Values in Uncertain Times

Recently, European leaders met in Gothenburg, Sweden, for a seminal ‘Social Summit’.

The occasion was historic in more than one way. Not only did it mark the first time in twenty years that the EU’s top leaders gathered to discuss the social dimension of their common project; it also set unprecedented standards of transparency and engagement with social partners and civil society.

Special attention was given to Europe’s young people, who have borne the brunt of the economic woes of previous years – today manifested in high unemployment and often unstable working conditions. Many of them are also set to inherit high public debt at a time when demographic decline will kick in, and when the outlook for Europe’s competitiveness in the global economy is far from certain.

But young people are not alone in sharing a feeling of socioeconomic decline and profound change. The future of work in a digitalised and connected world was a topic of intense interest. How to make this new world of work compatible with the values and principles that have underpinned Europe’s social systems? How to prepare a new generation for jobs that don’t yet exist and skills that are not yet taught? How to reconcile the many demands on people’s lives – such as caring for children and elderly relatives or reskilling midcareer – with the economic need to hold down a job? What role for governments, companies and the individual?

There was no shortage of issues to discuss and the Swedish setting made for an open, honest and forward-looking debate. It was equally important that the proclamation of the ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’ lent a sense of lasting purpose to the meeting. It was a proud moment for Europe and the European Union that, at a time when many citizen rights around the world are eroded by a growing set of illiberal regimes – and against the palpable sense of social dislocation felt across the middle and lower classes in advanced economies – our political masters reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the values and principles that have underpinned Europe’s social market economies, also in this digital and globalised world. That, however, will only be possible if social systems make use of – and benefit from – the innovation and user-centricity that modern technologies and anticipatory governance enable. That is why we asked distinguished thought leaders and practitioners to contribute their ideas on how to make the European social model fit for the future and sustainable over time.

Read the full report here