Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be here with you on the International Day of Families and to mark the 60th anniversary of a dynamic European civil society organisation: COFACE Families Europe.

Over the years, we have gotten to know each other.

I know you are creative. I know you are active. And I know you are ambitious.

Our cooperation has been a long and productive one.

Most recently on the European Pillar for Social Rights –

And I am glad that I am here so that I can thank you in person,

You bring a family perspective to issues that are also high on my agenda.  Such as disability. And digitalisation.

And I applaud your long standing efforts for a better work life balance. Which is an issue close to my heart.

Equality of men and women in the workplace has been an important issue to me, for as long as I can remember.

COFACE started its advocacy of parental leave legislation in 1982, more specifically the self-employed, with family responsibilities.

Around the same time, I was promoting equal opportunities for men and women.

So we have been on the same barricades, together.

But we still have a long way to go. We can still take an example from your mascot - the Penguin – where mothers and fathers share caring responsibilities equally. 

When a female penguin lays an egg, she is tired. She is  hungry. So the male penguin takes care of the egg, while she goes hunting. After the egg hatches, they both care for the baby penguin in turns.

And we are still far away from taking it in equal turns. 

Still, many things have changed for the better since 1958, when COFACE was founded.

In that same year the Atomium was built. The European Economic Community came into being. And one of its member states abolished the legal incapacity of married women.

We  have come a long way. One thing hasn’t changed: Families are still at the core of our societies.

80 percent of all care in Europe is provided by informal carers. Who most often are our mothers, sisters, daughters.

For relatives with disabilities. For parents and grandparents. And for children – and not just when they are small.

What has changed is the composition of families. There are single parent families. Patchwork families. So called Rainbow families.

COFACE Families Europe has adapted to this change. You reflect this diversity. You speak for all families and I support that.  

What will families look like in 60 years? I don’t know the answer.

But what is certain: we have many challenges ahead of us.

First, demographic ageing. In 2060, about 12 percent of the population of Europe will be older than 80. There will be more older people, with more need for care. As a result, Europe’s informal carers will have to care for their parents and their children. So our resources will be stretched. Fewer people will need to support more people in need.

To maintain an inclusive society, we will need good quality services for the elderly, and flexible work arrangements for our carers. We need to recognise, the contribution they make.

A second challenge: the world of work is changing.

More and more, people move between different jobs, and between jobs and self-employment. We expect that the average European worker will change job ten times in his or her career.

Flexibility is good for jobs and growth. It’s good for work life balance.  But for some people, it is the road to exclusion. So  we need to  update our skills, to our changing jobs and make sure that adequate services are available to guide and empower people through these transitions.

On top of this: Digitalisation will change the way we work and live. You point out – and justly so – that the digital revolution offers challenges for families, but also great opportunities. Our new General Data Protection Regulation protects our privacy  - and especially that of our children.

We now need to build the foundations of an inclusive Europe.

In line with the United Nation Sustainable Development Goal for an inclusive society.

We need inclusion. For economic reasons. Because where there’s inclusion, where there is equality, people invest in themselves and in their children. For the benefit of society.

We need inclusive societies, for social reasons. Because the European  Union is not just about business and banks. It’s also about values. We should not leave anyone behind. Not just because that’s fair. But because in an ageing, flexible, and digital society, we need all hands on deck.

Our compass towards an inclusive society is the European Pillar of Social Rights that the Commission launched last year.

The Pillar is a framework of 20 rights and principles, grouped around three main goals:

1. Equal opportunities and access to the labour market, through education, training and lifelong learning.

2. Fair working conditions for all.

3. Access to social protection for all.

And many of these principles are important to families in particular.

- education, training and lifelong learning,

- gender equality

- work life balance

- child care and support to children

- inclusion of people with disabilities

- long term care, and

- access to essential services.

In November, The European Commission, The European Parliament, and the Council proclaimed our Pillar of Social Rights. Together, we reaffirmed our commitment to build a more social Europe. Now, it is our shared responsibility to implement the Pillar.

As Commission, we will do what we can on the European level.

Mainly the Member States are responsible for social affairs. I expect them to be good for their word.

But we also need your help.

After all, you know best what families in Europe want.

You already helped to build the Pillar, I now ask you: help us make it a reality.

I ask COFACE: continue to be an ambassador for the Pillar.

Be a passionate advocate of its rights. Remind the Member States, and the Parliament, of the commitment they made.

But I hardly need to ask. You are already a strong supporter of our Work Life Balance Proposal.

Because it’s high time, that women and men do their fair share of caring.

More women graduate from university today than men. Still, the gender employment gap in the EU is 11.6 per cent and even 20% in full time equivalents.  

We need women to get to work. And not just because that’s fair. But also because it makes sense. The gender employment gap costs our economies about €370 billion per year.

That’s why I am now happy and grateful, for your support for our Work Life Balance Proposal.

With your penguin photo campaign in parliament, you sent a strong message to our MEPS.

I would also like to thank you for your advocacy towards the Member States.

I’m sure that, with your support and your excellent mascot, we’ll soon get the critical mass of Member States behind the proposal. 

After all, if a penguin can do it, then why can’t we?

With help like this, we are sure to make the Pillar a reality for all Europeans.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Once again, I would like to wish COFACE a very happy birthday.

Your history is entwined with that of the European Union.

You have been a great promotor of families, of social progress and inclusion.

I hope the next sixty years will be as fruitful as the previous sixty.

And for today, I wish you a very pleasant and productive evening.