What has the EU so far achieved from a social perspective?

Looking at the social situation in the EU today, it can sometimes seem like the EU has not achieved anything except economic cooperation. The reality is otherwise. The EU has in fact made strong progress from a social perspective by providing EU funding, establishing strong standards in some areas such as labour law and non-discrimination, and encouraging Member States to cooperate and set common objectives: for instance to reduce poverty.

The European Union provides funding and grants for a broad range of projects and programmes, financed out of the EU’s budget, as defined through a Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the EU’s long-term spending plan for the period 2014 – 2020. The MFF sets out the maximum budget for the EU in six broad areas including Smart and Inclusive growth and Security and citizenship (including the asylum, migration and integration fund). Many of these opportunities are accessible to Eurodiaconia members to support them in their work for social inclusion.


European Social Fund (ESF) – €74 billion

The ESF’s primary aim is to support employment, education and training across the EU. The ESF is funding tens of thousands of projects across the Union that make a real difference to the lives of millions of individuals.


Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) – €3.4 billion

The FEAD supports national schemes implemented at national, regional or local levels by public bodies or non-for-profit organisations to distribute food or material assistance to the most deprived persons and to provide accompanying measures of social inclusion.


Asylum, migration and integration fund – €3, 138 billion

This fund aims to create effective management of migration flows by strengthening the Common Asylum System, supporting legal migration and integration, promoting return strategies, and increasing solidarity and responsibility-sharing among Member States.


Erasmus + – €14.7 billion

This fund was set up among other things to support young people in acquiring more and better skills through study and training, to support Member States and partner countries in modernising their education and vocational training systems, and to promote youth participation in society.


EaSi – €79.4 billion

The objectives of the EaSi fund are to develop and disseminate comparative analytical knowledge and provide evidence on Union policies as well as to improve information-sharing, learning and dialogue, to test social and labour market policy innovation, and to build capacity to design and implement social policy innovation.

For more information on sources of EU funding and eligibility refer to the Eurodiaconia website and Eurodiaconia funding toolkit

The free movement of people, goods, services and capital has been one of the key tangible effects of the European Union (single market) over the past 50 years. This has also had a clear social impact, particularly in terms of citizens’ mobility.

The free movement of people entailed the right to live, work, study or retire in another EU country and enabled EU consumers to have access to increased competition leading to lower prices, a wider choice of goods and higher levels of protection. On the positive side is the ‘’European dream’’ of flexible mobile educated EU citizens moving across Europe in response to labour market shortages and skill demands. For instance in 2011 a European Commission report highlighted the positive impact of workers mobility in ‘’contributing to the skills mix as well as filling vacancies in sectors and jobs with labour shortages such as in construction and the domestic and food services sectors.’’ But the ‘’dark side’’ of this freedom of movement is the difficulty for intra-EU-mobile citizens of accessing social rights and the growing number of destitute EU-mobile citizens. The European Union is working on this issue to facilitate access to social rights for EU citizens who become destitute as a result of moving to another EU country for work.

For more information on the issue of EU mobility, refer to the Eurodiaconia policy paper and briefing on free movement in the EU.

Owing in part to the increased mobility of services, goods, capital and workers facilitated by the four freedoms, the European Union has had to develop EU policies linked to employment. In this area already mentioned in the Treaty of Rome, the EU complements Member States’ competences by setting minimum standards (in accordance with the Treaty – particularly Article 153) for working and employment conditions, and for informing and consulting workers. For instance, the European Working Time Directive entitles workers to 20 days’ annual paid leave.

For more information on the European Union and labour law please visit the European Commission dedicated website here.

The European Union has been very active in promoting fundamental rights and non-discrimination, in partnership with the Council of Europe. From its start, the European Union laid down the foundation of non-discrimination law when in 1957 the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community contained a provision on equal pay for men and women.

Later the scope of political and legislative efforts continued to be widened. A key step was made in 2000 when two key Directives were adopted: the Employment Equality Directive which prohibited discrimination on the basis of religious belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in the area of employment; and the Racial Equality Directive which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity in the context of employment and access to services.

Last but not least, non-discrimination in the EU concerns not only specific legislation on non-discrimination but also access to rights. For instance, European legislation addresses disability in a broad range of areas, such as in transport and telecommunications, in State aid promoting recruitment of disabled workers, and in the open method of coordination enabling disability issues to be taken into consideration in employment, social inclusion and protection, pensions, health and long-term care.

For more information on the European Union’s work on non-discrimination, please check the European Commission DG Justice dedicated website here.

According to the principle of subsidiarity, economic policy falls within the competence of the EU, which means that EU institutional bodies can prescribe legally-binding directives to individual EU Member States. By contrast, social policy (which includes policies relating to poverty reduction) falls within the competence of EU Member States. The subsidiarity principle significantly complicates the European Commission’s capacity to influence the national policies of Member States in respect of poverty reduction.

The European Union has therefore developed soft-law (non-binding) instruments to facilitate Member States’ cooperation in addressing poverty. The most recent instrument of this kind is the Europe 2020 poverty reduction target introduced in 2010, when all EU Member States together agreed to reduce poverty, and individually set quantified targets.

Check your country’s progress towards the poverty target here.

The results are not as satisfactory as initially planned. But the setting of common objectives and quantified targets is a move in the right direction. It has provided the basis for social inclusion policies on equal footing with economic policies. For more information on the process, please go to the Eurodiaconia toolkit on European Semester