New release: A social rebalancing of the European Semester? A public sector trade unions’ analysis


On 11 April 2019, two reports on the European Pillar of Social Rights’ influence over the European Semester – the yearly cycle of coordination of economic and social policies at EU level - and on trade unions’ role in influencing the Semester have been published. They represent the first outcomes released in the framework of the European Commission-funded project Public Service Trade Unions – Effective Intervention in the European Semester. The project is coordinated by the European Federation of Public Services Unions (EPSU), the University of Nottingham and the European Social Observatory (OSE), with ETUCE’s support.

Analysing all stages of the European Semester, EU’s annual system of economic governance and policy coordination mechanism, the report confirms findings from the 2016 ETUCE’s Practical Guide for an Effective Involvement of Education Trade Unions in the European Semester on Education and Training, detailing a path towards a ‘social rebalancing’ of the Semester. Since the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the social dimension is in the focus of the Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs). However, this is relegated behind fiscal priorities, exhibiting a structural asymmetry between the economic and social dimensions. Correspondingly to ETUCE’s Guide, the reports assess the Semester as a flexible process, in which trade unions are best placed to have meaningful influence through constant involvement. The reports’ assessment is that unions can be successful in influencing the Semester by engaging in long-term planning and by setting the direction of the travel through early involvement and agenda-setting.

The report assesses the education CSRs, and echoes ETUCE’s concerns on the push towards narrowing the value of education to labour market needs, increased cooperation with businesses in higher education, and inability to effectively address equity issues. Concerns are being raised about the low public investment in the public service, including in the education sector, in the aftermath of the economic crisis, and especially about how the social commitments of the European Semester are yet to offset this situation.

Susan Flocken, ETUCE European Director, stated that: “The legacy of the economic crisis is still experienced in the education sector, as public spending has yet to reach pre-crisis levels. The strict fiscal consolidation measures across the majority of EU countries has made it difficult for countries to invest and opened way to alternative means of funding education via private, commercial and financial actors. This exacerbates inequalities as it poses threats to the provision of free, universal, high-quality education to all, and we welcome any efforts to raise the awareness on how education social partners can shape the European Semester’s process and elevate social commitments to the same footing as economic ones.”

The reports can be accessed at:

The  European  Semester  – an analysis of the  2017-2018 cycle

The European Semester: A literature review