Ladies and gentlemen,
It is good to see you again.
Three years ago we started a journey together. In 2016 we organised this conference for the very first time.
Because we wanted to send a signal. A signal that we need to reconnect our policies with our people.
The best way of doing that is through civil dialogue. Because the strength of democracy is pluralism. Our democracies are only strong if all voices are heard. If the needs and hopes of all people are taken into account.
And you are that voice.
When I look through my notes for this same conference three years ago, I have to smile.
I told you then about our ambitions and plans. Plans that you helped to shape with your input and constructive criticism.
And – together with you – we realised almost every single one of these plans. This is also your achievement.
We said we’d bring social to the heart of Europe. And we did bring social to the heart of Europe.
We did this by focussing on fairness, jobs, and growth. And now 240 million Europeans are at work – more than ever before. Unemployment is at 6.4 per cent. The lowest number since the start of this century.
And in 2017, there were 4.4 million fewer people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU, compared to pre-crisis levels in 2008.
While we are still far from our Europe 2020 goal, this is real change for the better for ten million people, since the peak in 2012.
We brought social back to Europe by relaunching civil dialogue and rebooting social dialogue. By making labour mobility fairer. By fighting cancer-causing chemicals in the workplace.
Our most important achievement was launching – with your help – the European Pillar of Social Rights.
A Pillar that consists of 20 rights and principles, dealing with three main issues: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair labour conditions, and social protection and inclusion.
The rights of the Pillar directly concern the everyday life and the future prospects of many of the people, civil society represents. Children. Pensioners. People experiencing poverty, including the homeless. People with disabilities.
The whole of Europe committed to the Pillar. The Commission. The European Parliament and the Member States promised to turn rights into realities and principles into policies.
And let me tell you something. It really works. Member States are keeping their promises. Two weeks ago I was in Lithuania, where the Minister of Social Affairs told me they had set up a working group, to see how they could implement the Pillar in their country.
This is of course a wonderful example! And I am confident that – thanks to your advocacy and support – many will follow.
We said we would put social at the heart of our governance.
And we did this, by fully integrating the Pillar into the European Semester, our annual cycle of economic policy coordination.
We developed the social scoreboard, which allows us to follow social developments at a glance.
And now we can see that the Semester is a true tool for change. When we started, we said that all Member States should have minimum income schemes. Today, this is a reality. We now must make sure these schemes are adequate and reach all people in need.
We have made the Pillar present in every stage of the Semester. In our Country Reports. And in our Country Specific Recommendations.
That means you have a direct impact on all stages of the Semester process. Your input and data – be it on homelessness, deinstitutionalisation, poverty – helps us to improve and strengthen our analysis.
The Commission is leading by example to implement the Pillar.
With new rules on work-life balance. These will help men and women to share caring responsibilities equally. To care for children, the sick, the elderly.
With new rules that protect precarious workers – also in the new economy.
With a Recommendation to give everyone access to social protection. And all member states have committed to present national plans about how they intend to carry it out.
Five years ago, we also said we would boost the skills of people. Including the basic skills of 61 million Europeans with low qualifications.
And we did what we promised, by launching our European skills agenda. All of its ten actions are now fully up and running.
We said would make products and services more accessible.
And we have made them more accessible. The Accessibility Act brings accessible e-books and e-commerce. Everyone will benefit, from easy to use ticket and bank machines or phone apps.
And once again, you were there, at the birth of this Act.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have done, what we said we would do and more. We could have achieved none of this without your help.
Some of you will say: you haven’t done enough. And I agree. When it comes to social progress and inclusion, it can never be enough.
But at the same time, we need to appreciate what has been achieved. And don’t get me wrong. It’s not because I want applause.
It is to show to the sceptics that Europe works for its people. And yes, we can do more and better. But only if we work together, in Europe.
This week we will have elections. Crucial elections that will decide the course of European policy. And the future of social Europe.
I know that some people fear, the social will disappear after our mandate ends. Some, may even hope so.
But I don't think so.
There are still large inequalities in Europe. Between and within Member States.
Demographic ageing, the flexible labour market continue to put our people, businesses and social protection systems under pressure.
And we live in times of great change. Migration. Digitalisation. Climate Change.
If we really want to tackle those challenges, we need a strong social Europe.
The Pillar is our compass for today and tomorrow. It will continue guiding decision makers in the future, so that Europe can tackle the challenges of the 21st century.
We have laid the basis. But our work doesn’t stop here. The challenges don’t stop here. Change doesn’t stop here.
The next Commission has to make sure that everything we decided under this mandate, is implemented.
And we must continue to deliver on the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Because in the face of increased global competition, Europe and its Member States have only one option; to invest in our biggest asset. Our people.
Starting from the cradle; by ensuring all our children have access to quality childcare, education and healthcare.
And throughout their lives; with lifelong learning; quality social services; adequate social protection for all; quality healthcare and long-term care; affordable housing.
A changing world also has to be an inclusive world. Just think about it:
Migration is not only about protecting borders. It is also about integration.
Digitalisation is not only about technology. But also about education and social protection.
Climate change is not only about emissions and energy. But also about sharing burdens, creating new opportunities and ensuring social fairness.
So I am sure the social is here to stay. And I’m not alone.
Just under two weeks ago I was in Sibiu, in Romania.
There, European leaders reaffirmed their belief that united we are stronger, in a changing world.
In Sibiu, European leaders committed to uphold the principle of fairness. They committed to further reduce disparities. And to always help the most vulnerable in Europe.
Today it’s up to you to discuss, how to turn this commitment into reality.
That means asking strategic questions like:
How do we reach the sustainable development goals?
How do we improve our social governance?
What’s next for the Disability strategy?
It means asking very concrete questions.
How do we create a culture of lifelong learning?
How do we improve our social services?
How do we finance social Europe?
How do we communicate social Europe?
I know one thing for sure: the next Commissioner for Social Affairs, will also be asking these questions.
And she or he will be very interested in your answers.
Today you can send a message to the next Commission. And I will make sure it will be delivered.
And there’s one message I will certainly pass on to the next Commissioner:
Preserve this institution, the annual convention. Listen to civil society.
If you want a social Europe, you need their knowledge, expertise and passion.
Let me end on what’s maybe an emotional note.
This will be my last Convention on Inclusive Growth.
At least as Commissioner – who knows what the future brings -
If people ask me: what inspired you most as Commissioner.
I say: civil society.
It’s you who turn outsiders, into insiders.
You reminded me every single day: this is what all our work is about: About people.
I wish you a very successful conference. Above all I wish you a very successful, happy and social future.