Tue. Jan 31st, 2023

Prime Minister Costa, dear António,

Presidents, Prime Ministers,

Representatives of the social partners and civil society,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The pandemic – and the uncertainty that goes with it – is not over. And the recovery is still in an early stage. And thanks to our unique social market economy, we can give certainty to people who need it now most. It is above all – our social market economy – a human economy that protects us against the great risks of life, that is its trademark. Against the risk of illness, or ill fortune, unemployment or poverty. But it also offers stability and helps us better absorb shocks, for example through the automatic stabilisers we do have. And it creates opportunities and prosperity by promoting innovation, growth and fair competition. This is the European social market economy – unique in the world. It is opportunity and it is protection for all.

And this is the European promise that our parents built for us. And I want this promise to be true for our children, too. Yet, we know that our world is transforming. A changing global economy. An ageing society. The impact of technology and automation. A warming planet. On top of all this came a virus that shrunk our GDP, took lives and destroyed livelihoods. The new generations who are now entering the jobs markets are worried. They see their parents’ quality of life not as a starting point, but as something they may never achieve.

The world is changing and we will have to change, too. To say it as the great Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, in Il Gattopardo, who said: ‘Everything has to change if everything should stay the same.’ We have to act on climate change. We want Europe to be the frontrunner in the digital age. But we also want Europe’s social promise to be filled with life. And this is what brings us here to Porto. We are here to build a social Europe that is fit for our day and age. That is delivering on its ambitions. So thank you, dear António, for your leadership to convene this Social Summit. Thanks a lot for that.

As we gather here in Porto, the people of Europe are calling precisely for opportunity and protection. The pandemic has revealed some of the paradoxes of our economy. Just think about the so-called essential workers: from the health professionals to clerks, from cleaners to delivery people. We all know now that our daily life depends on them. On their work, on the risks they take. Their contribution was priceless during this pandemic.

And yet, so many of these essential workers do not enjoy the same rights and the same social security as others. Europe’s social market economy must work for them, too. It must work for youth and for women, who were the first to lose their jobs during the lockdowns because they did not have a proper contract. Europe’s economy must work for people who did their best and still do not earn enough to make a living. It must work for those who need to learn new skills for the jobs of tomorrow. But it must also work for employers who are investing. Who take risks and take care of their employees. So Europe’s promise is for all of them.

We do not start from scratch. Indeed, as you said, António: five years ago, Gothenburg. If Gothenburg was all about principles, Porto is all about action. It is about turning the principles into tangible positive change for millions of Europeans.

We are here to discuss how we can do so. First of all, I believe we need clear targets to drive our action. This is why we have indeed proposed, in the Commission’s Action Plan, three measurable targets, both ambitious and achievable. What are the targets? By the end of this decade, we want at least 78% of adult Europeans to have a job. It is doable, if you just look at the large proportion of women who do not have a job today. We want at least 60% of adult Europeans who have training every year, because skilling, training and upskilling is one of the most urgent necessities for the whole workforce to meet the transformation – the green transformation and the digital transformation. And we must lift at least 15 million Europeans from the brink of poverty, most importantly of all: at least 5 million children. We all know why we do have these targets, because only what gets measured gets done.

The targets give us a sense of direction. But we need to start now. And as European Commission, we already put forward a series of proposals that can get us closer to our goals. A Youth Guarantee, to provide young Europeans with the right opportunities – more important than ever after this pandemic. A Child Guarantee, so that every child at risk of poverty has access to the basic needs and basic rights, like  education and healthcare. It makes such a difference for their lives. A Directive on pay transparency, because it should not matter whether you are a woman or a man: Equal work deserves equal pay.

And, we are building a Pact for skills, working with many of you who are here today: trade unions and employer associations. It is a Pact to give workers the skills they need. Because life-long learning is a fundamental necessity of today’s ever-changing world. And all of this will be backed by the largest public investment plan in our Union’s history. It is the largest investment plan since the Marshall Plan. We call it ‘NextGenerationEU’. And there is a reason why we call it ‘NextGenerationEU’. Our Recovery Plan will create good jobs, all across our Union. It will invest in skills. And I know, the Heads of State or Government here are working in their national recovery plans exactly with their social partners on these goals. We will invest in skills to master the green and the digital transformation. And it will be backed by reforms to re-energise our economy.

It is the opportunity of a century. And I urge all Member States that have not yet done so to ratify before the end of the month the Own Resources Decision, because it is a pre-condition to go to the capital market and raise the money that is necessary to start NextGenerationEU. In other words: All of us here share a huge responsibility to make this strong recovery happen. All of us here have the power to make a difference for the people of Europe: the trade unions and employers’ associations, civil society organisations and entrepreneurs, the Heads of State or Government and the EU institutions.

As I was preparing for this Summit, I received a letter from a young Portuguese nurse. Her name is Vitória. She wrote to me that she could find a job thanks to one of our Union’s social programmes. Vitória wrote: ‘Every day I am grateful that I was born in a country that belongs to the European Union.’ Aqui, juntos, somos mais fortes.

Vitória is so right. Together we are stronger. Together we can live up to our social rules and make them work for all Europeans. Together we can make good on Europe’s promise.

Long live Europe.

Viva a Europa.

Source: Speech by President von der Leyen at the Porto Social Summit

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