European Semester Autumn Package: Creating an economy that works for people and the planet

On 17th December, the von der Leyen Commission launched a new European Semester cycle, the first of its mandate. It presents an ambitious, rebooted growth strategy focused on promoting competitive sustainability to build an economy that works for people and the planet.

The Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy delivers on the vision set out in President Ursula von der Leyen’s Political Guidelines. It sets out the economic and employment policy strategy for the EU, placing sustainability and social inclusion at the heart of the EU’s economic policymaking, in line with the priorities enshrined in the European Green Deal, the Commission’s new growth strategy. It aims to ensure that Europe remains the home of the world’s most advanced welfare systems, becomes the first climate-neutral continent and is a vibrant hub of innovation and competitive entrepreneurship. It will give Europe the tools to strive for more when it comes to social fairness and prosperity. More broadly, the sustainable growth strategy will help the EU and its Member States achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which the Commission is integrating into the European Semester for the first time.

The Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy encompasses four interrelated and mutually reinforcing dimensions to addresses long-term challenges. These dimensions should guide structural reforms, employment policies, investments and responsible fiscal policies across all Member States to deliver an economy that works for people and the planet. The four dimensions are:

  • environmental sustainability;
  • productivity gains;
  • fairness; and
  • macroeconomic stability.

The European Semester will place a stronger focus on environmental sustainability by providing specific guidance to Member States on where structural reforms and investment towards a sustainable economic model are most needed. The policy guidance under the European Semester will also help to spur productivity gains: it will promote investment and structural reforms to foster research and innovation, improve access to finance, enhance the functioning of product and services markets, and remove bottlenecks in the business environment. Fairness should be safeguarded through the implementation of social policies to guarantee fair working conditions for all and to allow people to adapt to changing circumstances at a time of important transformations. Macroeconomic stability should be preserved by respecting the fiscal rules, while using the full flexibility built into them, addressing imbalances and completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

To strengthen its economic and social performance, the EU must fully deliver on the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. While the economic recovery helped to improve employment and social outcomes across Europe, action is needed to ensure the enjoyment of social rights and to counter the risks posed by a growing social divide. Among the key priorities for structural reforms in 2020, the European Commission highlights the need to address disadvantages for women in the labour market. Despite generally better educational outcomes for women, the gap with men in terms of employment rate and pay have remained broadly stable in recent years. Closing these gaps would have a positive impact on the economy and society. Promoting effective work-life balance policies, ensuring access to quality childcare and tackling tax and benefit disincentives to working are crucial to increase the employment rates of women and help fight child poverty.

COFACE will monitor the next phases in the European Semester whereby all countries must take account of the priorities identified by the Commission in its sustainable growth strategy in their national policies and strategies, as set out in their Stability or Convergence Programmes and their National Reform Programmes which they will submit next year. On that basis, the Commission will propose Country-Specific Recommendations (CSRs) as part of the European Semester Spring Package. The CSRs will be adopted by the Member States in the Council. Member States are thus ultimately responsible for their content and implementation.

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