Interview with EU Commissioner Nicolas Schmit

11 May 2022

Eurocitites has dedicated its Social Affairs Forum to discussing the most pressing issues cities are facing all over Europe. This year, Barcelona is hosting the event with the presence of over 160 mayors, deputy mayors and city officials from a network of over 200 cities, from 11-13 May. Supporting solidarity communities and social welfare responsiveness in times of crisis is this year’s main topic with several sessions and panels debating the effects of the Covid19 pandemic on social care systems and also the efforts undertaken by cities all over Europe to help millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war.

And to open the event, Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, gave a keynote speech where he stressed the challenges brought by the pandemic and the resilience of European cities, as well as the need for further support for Ukrainian refugees: “I want to thank the cities as a lot is done at the level of the cities,” he said.

Commissioner Schmit also gave an interview to Eurocities before the event, to discuss some of Europe’s greatest challenges today, and what the EU is doing to support cities.

Commissioner Nicolas Schmit. Image by the EU Commission
Commissioner Nicolas Schmit. Image by the EU Commission

1. What measures are currently in place or are being planned in the short term to guarantee employment and decent working conditions for Ukrainian refugees all over Europe?

On 4 March, the Commission activated the Temporary Protection Directive, which grants persons fleeing the war the right to accommodation, healthcare, access to the jobs market and education. Member states are now putting in place measures to help those arriving swiftly take up their right to work, as well as vocational training. This includes informing people about their rights under the directive, providing language or business support, and ensuring access to childcare. Public employment services have a key role here, acting as matchmakers on the labour market. For example, on 28 April, Portugal announced that 1,400 Ukrainian refugees in Portugal had been given work contracts, and 29,000 more jobs await refugees across the country.

The Commission has added the Ukrainian language to the EU Skills Profile Tool for non-EU nationals to help Ukrainian job seekers and those who wish to continue their studies showcase their skills and connect with opportunities and guidance on next steps. The Commission will also pilot a new Talent Pool to match skills with job vacancies.

2. How does the influx of Ukrainian refugees affect the discussions on the action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights?

Member states were already quite advanced in the preparation of their national action plans to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights when the war began. The Commission services are supporting member states in preparing their national targets to reach the EU-wide targets on employment, training and reducing poverty.

When it comes to the member states’ national action plans to implement the Child Guarantee, the countries which are receiving the largest numbers of refugees have asked for additional time to integrate the inflows of children fleeing from Ukraine into their plans. In times of crisis, as we saw with the pandemic, it is crucial to ensure that social rights and fairness are at the heart of our actions. Refugees from Ukraine can expect equal treatment and a warm welcome from the EU’s member states.

3. European cities have been dealing with the bulk of the influx of refugees, offering shelter, food and carrying out integration policies. How has the European Commission contributed (and will further contribute) to these efforts, in particular the Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion department?

Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the Commission has mobilised every effort to help member states to host and take care of people fleeing the war. In particular, it has introduced the possibility to mobilise in a flexible way the available resources from the 2014-2020 cohesion policy funds, and the possibility for 100% co-financing. The Commission has paid more than €3.5 billion in advance payments to member states to help them manage the arrival of refugees.  With these advance payments, member states can offer food, accommodation, healthcare, education, help to access jobs and more to those in need. The EU contribution will alleviate the additional burden on member states’ public budgets as the expenditure that can be covered is retroactively eligible from the date of the invasion of Ukraine.

4. One year ago, the EU presented its plans to regulate platforms like Uber and Deliveroo (“Improving working conditions of persons working through digital labour platforms”), what has changed since then and what other plans do you have to guarantee better working conditions for platform workers? How can cities contribute to this debate?

First to give the context: today, over 28 million people in the EU work through digital labour platforms. In 2025, their number is expected to reach 43 million people. The vast majority of these people are genuinely self-employed. However, we estimate that 5.5 million are incorrectly classified as self-employed.

Platform work in Europe (and notably on-location platform work) is concentrated in urban areas and big cities mainly because these platforms operate more efficiently the higher the population density. Cities are therefore very important in framing the debate on the regulation of digital labour platforms.

From health and safety perspective, ride-hailing and food delivery bring a number of challenges not only for platform workers themselves but also for cities. The majority of couriers and taxi drivers work as independent contractors so they are paid per task rather than per hour. This has of course an impact on road safety as they might work overly long hours and take risky actions to complete as many deliveries or rides as possible. The role of the cities is to ensure safe and high quality services for citizens while at the same time respecting the rights of platform workers.

Before adopting its proposed directive, the Commission carried out a two-stage consultation of European social partners. In addition, the Commission held exchanges with a wide range of interested parties.

Our proposal aims to make sure that platform work provides quality jobs, that don’t promote precariousness, so people working through them have security and can plan for their future. The Commission’s proposal sets clear criteria to establish whether a platform is an employer and if so, their workers are entitled to certain social protection and labour rights.

The proposed Directive is now being discussed by the European Parliament and by member states. Once they have finalised their positions, “trilogue” negotiations between the Commission, Parliament and Council will begin, with a view to finalising the directive.

5. How are cities being supported (and can be supported) in the post-pandemic in terms of funding and political support to create more jobs? Are cities being invited to take part in the discussions?

 In line with the shared management principle, the member states are responsible for making arrangements at the relevant level for the programming and implementation of the funds. The Commission monitors the involvement of partners, including local authorities and cities, as they are major stakeholders when it comes to providing training, jobs and social services. The Commission regularly participates in events organised by Eurocities and other organisations representing regions and local authorities.

The European Social Fund Plus will respond to challenges linked to digitalisation, automation and job creation, thus contributing to a “green economy” while tackling inequalities. Facilitating access to services (for example social, health and housing) as well as employment opportunities is crucial, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised communities such as Roma, migrants, homeless people or the long-term unemployed.

The Recovery and Resilience Facility, with a budget of €723 billion, provides member states with a unique opportunity to speed up the structural reforms identified in the framework of the European Semester and the digital and green transitions. For the implementation of the plans, it is important that member states engage actively with social partners and all relevant stakeholders, including cities, through dedicated regular meetings.

If we take the example of investments in youth employment, member states experiencing higher than average NEETs rates must devote at least 12.5% of their ESF+ allocations measures to support them. All other Member States will need to dedicate an appropriate amount to implement the reinforced Youth Guarantee. A good example of implementation at local level is Vienna, and in the Netherlands and Sweden, for example, municipalities play a crucial role in the implementation of the Youth Guarantee.




Raphael Garcia Eurocities Writer