“Cities are key implementers of the European Pillar of Social Rights”

10 January 2024

Cities are determined to build a more inclusive Europe by implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights at local level. Through the political campaign InclusiveCities4All, Eurocities’ initiative for a fairer and more inclusive Europe, we are demonstrating that cities are essential, trusted partners of the EU in developing and implementing measures that work for everyone.

Eurocities welcomed ten new Social Heroes in 2023: Brussels, Dusseldorf, Kadikoy, Munich, Nuremberg, Oslo, Paris, Riga, Stockholm and Zurich. But how does the EU value local engagement in the Pillar’s principles? And what are the Commission’s plans concerning the Pillar?

Eurocities has spoken with Katarina Ivanković-Knežević, Director of Social Rights and Inclusion at the European Commission, about the European Pillar of Social Rights and cities’ role in its implementation.

Watch our interview, or read the transcript below:

Cities are European Commission allies in implementing social policies at the local level. How does the European Commission value the importance of municipalities in translating the European-level social agenda into tangible solutions and actions?

As you rightly pointed out, cities are our allies. We see cities as one of the key implementers of the activities relevant to the European Pillar of Social Rights, and we really see them as promoters of social policy. And also as our voice.

So when I say European Pillar of Social Rights, it’s a document that has 20 principles. Each of those 20 principles links to a certain policy area of the social policy. And each Pillar principle has its weight. What I particularly liked about your work with cities is that you made it possible to bring the Pillar to the cities, and also cities to the Pillar. And when I say bring it to the cities and cities to the Pillar, it is the whole system of the pledges that you have organised and put in place. You can see in my office one of the first pledges from 2019. It was the Stuttgart [Social Affairs] Forum, where practically the first pledges were made and you have come a long way with the pledging. 

I wanted to ask you about the areas of social rights. Which of those areas has been most significantly addressed by the Commission in the recent efforts under the European Pillar Social Rights Action Plan? 

The whole European Pillar action plan has around 130 different actions. What I can really proudly say is that the majority of those activities have been implemented by now. In the area of social policy, we have been so productive, from the Minimum Wage Directive to the well-known European Child Guarantee Recommendation, where we made sure that children living in poverty in our societies have free and effective access to certain services. These services are early education and care, education, healthcare, healthy nutrition and also housing. Here we can also see the close link to the cities because it is cities, it is municipalities, who implement the activities. It is where the services are, and where the access to them must be secured.

This is not only relevant for children. It’s also relevant for the other spheres of life, like long-term care. Two years ago, we adopted the first-ever Long Term Care recommendation at the level of the European Union, together with the care strategy, where we also see that there is a big role for cities to play in providing services to citizens. We have done a lot in the area of minimum income, trying to address poverty and poverty challenges. We have done a lot when it comes to social entrepreneurship. For example, when it comes to many activities relevant to persons with disabilities, and these are all activities that are based on the Pillar, on the action plan or in some other strategic documents like the Strategy for the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities. 

Can you share any additional insights or updates regarding the Commission’s efforts on the European Pillar of Social Rights? 

I can tell you that I truly hope that with the Pillar and the action plan, we have really managed to show that it is possible to do so many activities in the area of social policy. It is also very important to give sufficient time for member states to implement different activities. Every document, every recommendation, and every directive that is adopted at the EU level has to be transposed and has to be transferred at the national, local and regional level. Therefore, I think the time for really full implementation is to come.

At this time, when we are close to the end of one Commission and waiting for a new one, we also do lots of assessment and evaluation. What have we done? Are there still some gaps and will we be ready when the new Commission comes? Also to reflect together on what to do next.

Very important for us in the Commission is the implementation of European funds. For cities, it’s particularly important to have access to the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund. I know that cities are advocating for more direct links when it comes to funding opportunities, and that is something that we also discuss a lot, how to make sure that there is such access. But then we have to look at the whole urban agenda or, for example, InvestEU, where the cities really have a direct impact and access to financing. 

I just want to emphasise the importance of your work and the work that cities are doing in implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights. It’s not always easy to put together Pillar principle activities, finances, the number of people that helped, but somehow you have managed to put it all together. I think this is one of the best ways to see how the top-down policy really gets to those who are the key players in implementing our policies. So thank you. And I wish you all the best for your future work. 

The campaign InclusiveCities4All, run by Eurocities since 2018, rallies city leaders to contribute to a fairer, more equal, and inclusive Europe by committing to any of the 20 principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights and presenting concrete actions on the ground. More information is available here.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer