Ton Wilthagen

Europe represents a social model that is unique in the world. It took great effort to build it and it will take even more effort to maintain and strengthen it. This is because Europe and it citizens too need to adapt to fundamental global economic and climate changes, technological development, demographic trends such as ageing and migration, cultural shifts and institutional and (geo)political change. European citizens are facing new insecurities and severe risks. Many commentators feel that the European model is eroding or under threat and that economic goals are now prevailing.

The so-called Five President’s report (June 2015[1]) speaks of the need for common high-level standards. These standards should help prepare the European Union for the future and learn from past flaws and mistakes. Many of these standards will be of an economic, financial and monetary nature. However, it is not too much to say that, among other factors, the future of the Union will depend on its social performance in the next years. The report recognizes this fact and e.g. refers to flexicurity principles as possible standards for European labour markets. But let’s be as concrete as possible: what are the standards in the social realm that we could and should aim at from the point of view of European citizens? The standards that enable Europeans to deal with changing realities and new challenges ahead and at the same time help Europe keep its promises as laid down in the Treaty. Clearly, European citizens themselves will have to take more initiative, be pro-active, flexible, innovative and show resilience. But what should Europe offer them?

Now that we are heading toward 2020, below I define twenty standards in the area of education, work, social security and also health care that I think should be common for all Europeans. Standards that give flesh and bones to the concept of a Social Europe. These standards are certainly not all met yet across the European Union. Let’s not lower the bar but raise it. I formulate these standards in common and concrete language, avoiding the traditional wording from treaties, laws and charters, from an individual citizen’s point of view and within a life-course perspective. So this is my Europe, from my birth till the day I die:

  1. As a child I will not be born in poverty. I will grow up in a safe and clean environment with balanced nutrition and excellent health care.
  2. I will be able to play outside and develop and enjoy myself with my peers. I will not be excluded or abused.
  3. I will have access to kindergarten or preschool irrespective of the socio-economic situation or ethnic and cultural background of my parents. I will be prevented from developing language deficiencies.
  4. I will be admitted to high standard primary education in a well-equipped school where excellent and inspiring teachers will help me develop my talents and get the best out of me. I have the possibility to join sport activities.
  5. At secondary education I will get the best possible information and advice on further choices on vocational education. No matter what level and direction I take, I will work on digital competences, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and I will master English language besides my mother language.
  6. My vocational education will be world-class and affordable, guaranteeing that I will have the best skills and competences, including 21th century social skills, that not only match today’s jobs but also provide me with a sound basis for taking up tomorrow’s jobs. Companies as future employers are highly involved in my education.
  7. During my education I will have the opportunity to engage in apprenticeships, internships or other dual combinations of learning and working, in order to make a smooth transition to the labour market.
  8. I will set up a sophisticated digital portfolio where I can document, portray and demonstrate my competences, experience and personal development. I will keep and further use this as a career portfolio after entering the labour market.
  9. In the undesirable event that no job is available, I will get a good-quality, concrete offer within 4 months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed, for a job, apprenticeship, traineeship, or continued education adapted to my individual need and situation. In case I have not yet reached a basic qualification level I will be provided with the opportunity to acquire this level at any moment in my career.
  10. In finding a job I will not be discriminated against on the basis of my sex, race, sexual orientation, age et cetera.
  11. At work I will operate in a safe environment, protected from occupational hazards, including stress, earn a decent wage or fee and have a say in the organization’s policy. I will have access to world-class lifelong learning arrangements, allowing me to stay up to speed in my job and the labour market, and to a proper level of income replacement in the case I get sick, disabled to work or unemployed. These entitlements are neither depending on the type of employment contract (such as permanent worker, temporary workers or self-employment) I have, nor on my age, sex or ethnical background et cetera. I can count on equal opportunities and equal treatment, also with respect to career possibilities, and will be protected against unfair dismissal and discrimination.
  12. My privacy will be aptly protected and guaranteed in the workplace and other domains of life.
  13. I will have a good work-life balance, including parental and family leave facilities, so I can take care of my relatives.
  14. I understand that jobs-for-life no longer exist, but if my job disappears or if a new step is desirable adequate and timely job-to-job transition facilities are in place to minimalize my risk of becoming long-term employed. These facilities also foster mobility across sectoral, regional and national borders within the European Union. I can live and work in any other Member State.
  15. If, after all, I am out work I can rely on outstanding employment services and training that will support me in a personal and tailor-made approach to return to the labour market as quickly as possible. I will have an excellent and real-time view on relevant job opportunities and be able to easily match these with my competence profile.
  16. Potential employers will not be risk-averse in hiring me, as tax on labour and administrative burdens are low, stimulating inclusive and dynamic labour markets that are also accessible if I have a handicap or other limitations.
  17. If despite all efforts I can not find a job and unemployment benefit schemes are expiring, I can rely on a safety net that will provide me with a social minimum income, protecting me and my family against poverty. This safety net is available for all citizens that are not able to earn the social minimum income.
  18. As a citizen of the European Union I will have access to high-standard medical insurance and world-class but affordable health care. This access will not depend on anything other than my citizenship. I will not be denied access to medicine or treatment for financial reasons.
  19. No matter what kind of employment contract I have in the labour market I will be able to build up pension rights that will provide me with a decent living after retirement, avoiding poverty. A state pension scheme will be in place as a basic pillar of my pension, in any case if I do not have access to occupational pensions. My pension scheme will be flexible, allowing me to retire earlier when the necessity arises.
  20. When I die there will be a budget for a decent farewell and my surviving relatives will be protected against poverty.


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