Ladies and Gentlemen,

Minister Plumb,

First of all, a big thank you to our Romanian hosts. Thank you for the excellent work of the Romanian Presidency!

You have successfully concluded negotiations on key social proposals.

Thanks to your help, we now have fair and enforceable European rules. Among others:

A directive that helps men and women to fairly share caring responsibilities.
Rules that ban cancer-causing chemicals and save thousands of lives.
Rules that make precarious work more transparent and predictable.
Rules for a fair European labour market.

These negotiations were not always easy. And that only underlines your achievement. You helped to bring European countries, closer together, to build a better future.

Think back thirty years. Who would have thought then, this day would ever happen?

This year we celebrate thirty years of freedom in Europe. Freedom, also in Romania.

In Belgium, we remember those events in Romania in 1989 very well.

In 1989, we learnt our first Romanian word:  “Timişoara”. We all remember the Blue-Yellow-Red flag - with the hole.

In 1989, we all had Romania in our hearts. And now Romania is at the heart of Europe. And shaping the future of Europe.

Today we will discuss the future of our European Social Fund. A fund that supports many of our employment and social policies.

The future of this fund is in your hands. Because you are Europe’s, and Romania’s foremost experts, on this topic.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Romania joined the European Union twelve years ago.

Just before a terrible economic and financial crisis.

Now, we are opening a new chapter. Growth and jobs are back. 240 million Europeans are now at work. More than ever before. Unemployment is 6.5 per cent in Europe, the lowest since the start of our 21st century.

In Romania, too, things are getting better.

Economic growth last year was 4.1 per cent. More than twice the European average.

Unemployment is well below EU average – at 3.8 per cent. Or almost half the European average.

Since 2013, 360,000 people climbed out of poverty.

And youth unemployment dropped by 32 per cent since 2013.

At the same time there are still challenges.

There are large differences. Between Member States and within Member States. Unemployment is 2 per cent in the Czech Republic and more than 10 per cent in Italy, Spain and Greece.

These differences are bad for our monetary union, and bad for our people.

So first of all, we need upwards convergence. We want our economies to grow. And when we speak about growth, I mean sustainable and job-rich growth.  We also need our economies and societies to grow closer together, towards better living and working conditions.

The European Union has always been a convergence machine. You can take Ireland as an example. Which was a very poor country, but has become a wealthy country.

That’s also what we want for Romania, and other countries. We now need to get the European convergence machine up to full speed.

On top of this our societies are facing great changes.

Climate change.
The digital revolution and the changing world of work.
Demographic ageing. Today there are three working people for every pensioner. In 2070, it will be two to one.

These changes put pressure on our people, our businesses and our social security and pension systems.

Our answer to these challenges, is the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The Pillar is a framework of 20 rights and principles, grouped around three main axes.

1. Equal opportunities and access to the labour market.

2. Fair working conditions.

3. Access to social protection.

The Pillar has two goals; first, to bring back convergence to Europe. And second, to empower our people and get our rulebook ready for the new world of work.

We are now turning principles into policies and rights into realities.

The Commission, European Parliament and Member States all agreed to implement the Pillar.

And the Commission is leading by example. Through our EU legislation and initiatives.

First of all, we’re adapting our labour laws and social security services. They were created for a 20th reality of full time, permanent jobs.

We are now updating them for the flexible, and digital future.

Our new Directive on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions creates minimum standards of predictability and transparency for all workers, regardless of contract type. This protects people working in precarious jobs. Also in Romania.

Such as the right:

To know your working conditions from the start of your employment relationship
To know in advance when you can be called to work.
The right to compensation, if your boss cancels work with late notice.
The right to work in parallel for other employers

And all Member States committed to implement our  Recommendation on Access to Social Protection.

Social security systems, pension systems, health coverage are all different in Europe. But one principle now is the same:

Member States have promised to make sure that all working people – also the non-standard workers and the self-employed – will have formal and effective coverage against life risks.

Our new Directive on Work Life Balance gives men more opportunities for paternity and parental leave. So that women have more opportunities to develop their full potential on the labour market.

Because we need everybody’s talent, on the labour market.I hope our Directive will lead to a culture change, a change in mentality.

Secondly, we’re upgrading the skills of our people.

9 out of 10 businesses tell us they need digital skills. 4 out of 10 Europeans have those skills.

Our New Skills Agenda helps people to find the skills they need to get jobs. And it helps businesses to find the skilled workforce they need to compete.

We’re mapping skills needs in the economy and closing skills gaps.

The Member States agreed on a Recommendation to boost alphabetical, numeracy and digital skills that 61 million Europeans still lack.  And we’re boosting the technical skills the digital revolution needs.

Of course, the Pillar changes what we do. It doesn’t change who does what.

The Member States are mainly responsible for social affairs. That means a great responsibility, lies on their shoulders.

The Commission can help to make sure that we all travel in the same direction. We do this, through monitoring and guidance in the European Semester – our annual process of economic and policy coordination.

We have made the European Semester more social than ever before. By linking it to the Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar is reflected in all stages of the Semester. Most recently, in our country reports. And soon, in our country specific recommendations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s not enough to draft laws, take initiatives and coordinate policies. We also need to put our money where our mouth is.

And that’s why we have the European Social Fund. Currently ten per cent, of the entire EU budget, that’s dedicated to social.

The European Social Fund has invested into social inclusion for more than 60 years. Since 1958 – so since the foundation of our Union.

With projects that turn outsiders, into insiders: the disabled, Roma, immigrants. Because our ageing societies need their contribution, too.
Projects that help businesses to start, change and grow.  To deal with digital change, climate change
Projects that support public services. Like the impressive project jointly run by the Romanian Labour and Education ministries. A project that creates integrated community services to combat poverty and social inclusion. 139 teams across the country will end up supporting up to 34,000 people.

And the European Social Funds invests in the young people of Europe.

With projects that boost education systems.
That build bridges between business and education.
That teach young people skills: basic skills, digital skills or green skills a carbon free economy needs.

On top of that, we use our European funds to fight one of the most heart-breaking social issues of our time. Heart-breaking because our children are at stake. Our future is at stake: youth unemployment.

We invested 8.8 billion euros into our Youth Employment Initiative. 

And as a result, every year since 2014, 3.5 million young people took up an offer of education, training or employment under our Youth Guarantee.

There are now 2.4 million fewer unemployed young people than 2013. And almost two million fewer young people not in education or training.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Social Fund is a child of the 1950s.

An age when the newly formed European Economic Community had just six members.
An age when your first boss, was very likely also your last boss.
An age when computing power was a trillion times less, than it is today.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being in your sixties.

Trust me, I know.

As long as you move with the times.

We are now making the European Social Fund future proof. With our new proposal for the next multi-annual financial Framework.

For the very first time, the Commission proposal includes an explicit amount for social funding: A total of 101 billion euro in the new European Social Fund Plus.

25 per cent of this will be reserved for social inclusion. That’s an increase of 5 per cent.

And 10 per cent is for young people in those Member States that still struggle with youth unemployment.

These are the main challenges we face. I am glad to see that in today’s conference we will be looking at those more closely.

In our proposal, we link the European Social Funds closely to the reforms we propose in the European semester.

And that means by default, to the Pillar of Social Rights

The negotiations are well underway. The European Parliament has presented its views.The Council has agreed its negotiating position.  

The responses to our proposals are positive. As soon as the new European Parliament is elected, we need to start negotiations. We need an agreement, by autumn.

This target date is important for all involved:

The Member States’ authorities and the European Commission so that they can start planning implementation.  
And our beneficiaries to give them a stable perspective on the funding.

Let’s work on it together!

The negotiations for the next multi-annual budget are tough. Because of Brexit, we will have one contributor less. And there are many new important priorities. Security. The Fight against Terror. Climate. 

There’s a lot of pressure.

So I ask all of you to say: not a cent less for social! Not a penny less, for people!

Ladies and gentlemen.

The European Union is built on the promise of freedom, peace and prosperity.

We now have to make good on that promise.

Our European funds are not charity. They come from the knowledge, that if one country does well in Europe, we all benefit. 

If Romania prospers, we all prosper.

Today we discuss the future of our funds.

And next month, the future of Europe. In another Romanian city.

The journey that started 30 years ago in Timişoara, leads straight to Sibiu.

As Eugene Ionesco said: “You can only predict things after they have happened”.

We can’t predict the future.

But together we can shape the future.

I wish you a very successful conference.