Compared to the rest of the world, Europe has the best levels of social protection and also ranks highly in terms of quality of life and wellbeing. However, it faces a wide range of challenges, including impact of the COVID situation.
The EU has only limited competence when it comes to social issues as most of it is up to national governments. The responsibility for employment and social policies lies mostly with the member states and their governments. This means that national governments - and not the EU - decide on issues such as wage regulations, including minimum wage, the role of collective bargaining, pensions systems and retirement age, and unemployment benefits.
However, over the years, the EU has been working on social issues throughout the European integration process and come up with a series of instruments in the social sector. These include EU laws, funds and tools to better coordinate and monitor national policies. The EU also encourages countries to share best practices on issues such as social inclusion, poverty and pensions.
One of the supporting tools is the European Social Fund+, with a total budget of €88 billion for next 7 years. It will play an important role in the implementation of the action plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights and in countering the socio-economic effects of the pandemic. It integrates the former European Social Fund, the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD) and the EU programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) into one fund.