The European Union represents prosperity, democracy and freedom. It stands for being able to have a good life. We all benefit from these achievements, and we must protect them - especially in times of crisis.
The issues of minimum wages for workers and minimum incomes for those in need are very important: We are focussing on these issues because everyone in the EU should be able to lead secure, decent lives with adequate recognition for their work. These are two essential elements of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Raising incomes on the lower end of the scale makes sense not only for social reasons, but also, and above all, for economic reasons.
Considerable progress was made on both projects during Germany's Presidency of the Council of the European Union. At the end of October, the European Commission presented a proposal for a directive on adequate minimum wages in the EU. Member states have agreed on Council Conclusions to strengthen minimum income schemes.
Focussing on the interests of workers
Minimum wages can ensure that those with jobs do not end up in poverty. In the EU, twenty-two member states have minimum wages; in the five remaining countries, collective agreements guarantee that wage floors are regulated. However, the level of the minimum wage differs greatly between EU member states. At the same time, in Europe about ten percent of employees are considered at risk of poverty.
The Commission's proposal for a directive on adequate minimum wages makes it clear that every EU citizen must be able to live from their own work. Undoubtedly, the best way to achieve fair wages and decent working conditions is to have high coverage rates of collective bargaining agreements and the social partners from business and labour working together on the national level. The proposal therefore aims to shore up these aspects. However, if these instruments are not strong enough, we need minimum wages to set lower limits. The proposal for a directive thus includes this aspect.
Those in need should be able to participate in society
At the same time, not everyone is able to work, and sometimes the income from work is not enough to provide for all persons living in a household. Those in need must be able to participate in society. Social exclusion must be prevented. Minimum income schemes have now been implemented in all EU member states, but there are still large differences in benefits - and social safety nets are often inadequate. Member states have therefore agreed on Council Conclusions to strengthen minimum income schemes. In the Council Conclusions, the member states agreed to close remaining gaps in safety nets. In this context, they are calling on the European Commission to propose an initiative to update the existing EU framework on minimum income.
Minimum wage and minimum income: both projects contribute to reducing social inequality in the EU, keeping countries from competing on the basis of excessively low wages and strengthening social protections in Europe, thus providing an important foundation for a strong, crisis-proof European economy.
Germany's Presidency of the Council of the European Union has shown that Policy-making for our social Europe cannot succeed without involving Europe’s civil society actors. With the support of the social partners, academics and various stakeholder organisations, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs therefore organised an interactive online conference on the topic of "Our social Europe - strong together”. At this conference, European decision-makers and more than 1,000 viewers from Brussels, Berlin, Barcelona and many other places in Europe discussed how to flesh out the idea of a social Europe.