Who is Shaping European Priorities?

Posted on Wednesday, 30 March 2022
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As the Conference on the Future of Europe continues, the Report on the contributions per Member States indicate some interesting priorities for Ireland. 


Of the 287 total contributions made, 70 were classified as "ideas", 146 as "comments", and 71 as "events". While European Democracy was the topic with the most contributions overall, Digital Transformation was the area on which contributors had the most ideas, followed by Climate Change and the Environment. 

Digital Transformation

Not surprisingly, in the advent of a pandemic which saw an almost immediate shift towards remote learning and working, Ireland's contributors had some ideas on how a digital transformation could be managed into the future. The themes addressed under this heading related to the digital economy - the introduction of the digital euro, digital health, and data. According to the report, participants across Ireland called for health data to be shared across the EU and for the creation of an EU data charter. The need to ensure digital connectivity was also a concern for contributors, particularly those on the Islands, as was the development of digital technology in traditional industries.

Climate Change and the Environment

The themes raised under this heading were wide-ranging and showed an awareness that climate change and environmental concerns are about more than biodiversity, they also include taxation; energy source and consumption habits. Some contributors, under the topic of Health, also called for a dietary shift towards veganism.

A Stronger Economy, Soical Justice and Jobs

Taxation was also a focus under this heading, with contributors calling for EU tax harmonisation, social protection and social security and a focus on housing, fair employee prospects, fair working hours and remuneration. 

Mind Map - Ireland

The report also contains a Mind Map for each Member State, setting out the priorities under each of the themes identified (Fig. 1).

Fig.1: Mind Map for Ireland

Mind Map Ireland

Who were the contributors?

The Report also sets out a profile of who the contributors were.

  • Almost two-thirds were male (65 per cent), while 15 per cent were female, 19 per cent did not specify, and 1 per cent were non-binary.
  • More than one third (35 per cent) were aged 40-54 years old, while one third were under 39 years old and 14 per cent were over 55 (19 per cent did not answer this question).
  • In terms of occupation, more 3 in five (60 per cent) were either managers or professional workers, with just 8 per cent students, 4 per cent self-employed, and 4 per cent retired. 
  • And finally in the area of education, 57 per cent had a tertiary education, 6 per cent had a basic or upper secondary education, and 13 per cent were still studying.

What this tells us is that those most likely to be engaged in shaping the future of Europe at an Irish level are highly-educated, middle-aged men in professional or managerial positions.

The importance of Europe in shaping domestic policy in Ireland cannot be understated. Our national Budget has been subject to fiscal rules imposed by Europe (suspended in the advent of Covid-19 to allow for emergency borrowing and spending), it is timed to ensure that it is submitted to Europe by the 15th October deadline. The response to calls for increased spending on areas such as housing, healthcare, education, childcare and so on are often met with claims that it is out of the hands of Irish policymakers. These policies affect everyone, but when it comes to diversity of participation in decision-making, there is much to be done.


Delivering Leadership for Europe

For Social Justice Ireland, every person has seven core rights that need to be part of the vision for the future:.

  1. sufficient income to live with dignity,
  2. meaningful work,
  3. appropriate accommodation,
  4. relevant education,
  5. essential healthcare,
  6. to real participation, and
  7. cultural respect.

For these seven rights to be vindicated, greater public expenditure to fund a broader provision of services is required.

As part of a new Social Contract, Government should ensure that future tax and spending policy is focused on building up Ireland’s social infrastructure, prioritising areas such as healthcare, social housing, education, childcare, and early education facilities. These are areas in particular where Ireland is experiencing an infrastructure deficit. Without adequate future planning for the kinds of social infrastructure and services we need, it will not be possible to maintain – never mind improve – the current standards of living for all citizens, from children to older people.

Once Covid-19 has been defeated, all countries will face a major challenge: to decide if the experience of these past 20 months, and our response to it, should shape the future of our society.  We must learn from this experience and tackle the inequality and exclusion that we’ve failed to address heretofore. 

What we see clearly now is that the healthcare services that struggled in normal times are being provided with significant additional resources that, we were told, couldn’t be even considered prior to the pandemic.  What was claimed to be impossible then is taken to be the only sensible course of action today. 

All this suggests there is something profoundly amiss with our Social Contract. Once Covid-19 has been addressed successfully it is crucial that we face up to the radical reforms that are required if we are to reverse the prevailing thrust of policy-making over the past four decades which has failed to eliminate the inequality and exclusion that blights our society.

To achieve the vision just set out, Social Justice Ireland has proposed a policy framework for a new Social Contract that identifies five key policy outcomes and sets out three key areas for action within each (Table 1) [1]. Each of these five key policy outcomes must be achieved if we are to deliver a more just and sustainable society. It is not enough to have three or even four of the five, while neglecting other areas.  All five must be worked on simultaneously.  It’s not a question of getting the economy right and everything else will follow.  That approach has led us from boom to bust to boom to bust.  This must end.  

Table 1 - A Policy Framework for a New Social Contract

Vibrant economy

Decent services and infrastructure

Just taxation

Good governance


Deal with the Deficit

Increase Investment

Increase the overall Tax-Take

Open, transparent, accountable structures

Climate Justice

Financial Stability

Quality Services

Taxation Governance

Social Dialogue

Protect the Environment

Boost Public Investment

Minimum Social Floor

Broader Tax Base

Real Participation / Deliberative Democracy

Balanced Regional Development

Decent Jobs




Sustainable Progress Index

Reduce Inequality





We need the investment in infrastructure and services to develop a thriving economy.  We need just taxation to fund this.  We need good governance to ensure people have a say in shaping the decisions that impact them. We also need to ensure that everything that is done is sustainable; environmentally, economically and socially. 

This will require new approaches to the world of work and a recognition of much of the work done in society that goes unpaid, under-recognised and undervalued.

It will also require recognition that our tax and welfare systems are not fit for purpose in the twenty first century.  The time has come to set a minimum floor of income and services below which no one should fall.  The social welfare system and the income tax credits system should be replaced by a Universal Basic Income which would be far more appropriate for today’s economy. This should be accompanied by the development of Universal Basic Services to secure the wellbeing of all.

A new Social Contract will also require us to give climate action the priority it urgently needs. The response to Covid-19 shows that society can be mobilised quickly and effectively to address a real and present danger.  Climate change represents such a danger, but the policy response so far has been wholly inadequate.  We now know that we can respond quickly and effectively to major threats. An effective response to climate change must figure prominently in the new Social Contract.

Even at the earliest stages of this pandemic, the critical value of having an effective public sector was illustrated. The focus of recent decades on constantly reducing the role of the public sector has been shown to be wrong.  Countries with a functioning public sector that caters for essential health services for all have been shown to be better equipped to deal with the pandemic than those without, including Ireland with its two-tier system of healthcare.  We cannot settle for a two-tier healthcare system when this pandemic has passed.  Ireland will emerge from the pandemic with a larger public sector.  We must ensure that this change delivers the foundation of a new Social Contract, that everyone benefits from a larger public sector, and that these much needed services and infrastructure are adequately resourced going forward. 

Now is the time for creative thinking about what society should look like when the pandemic has passed.  Business as usual is not acceptable. Delivering the leadership required demands the implementation of that engage citizens, foster trust, and build a more just society.  We now turn to look at some potential policy alternatives in the areas of income, work, and service-provision.

The following national-level proposals then flow from that framework.

  1. Prioritise Investment: Large-scale, investment programmes are needed to ensure a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the current crisis which operate in job-intensive areas and assist growth as well as social and infrastructural deficits. The focus would need to be tailored to each individual country/ region but might include development of renewable energy sources, health and social care infrastructure, housing, education, and early childhood care infrastructure.
  2. Implement the European Pillar of Social Rights: Establish processes involving social partners and civil society partners to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights in ways that are legally binding, aiming for equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion.
  3. Strengthen Welfare Systems: Government needs to introduce social protection schemes that are more resilient and that tackle inequalities within the present systems, ensuring equal access to services and to strengthen social cohesion. The national minimum wage must be replaced, over time, with the Living Wage.
  4. Adopt Effective Labour Market Measures: Activation measures in the wake of the pandemic which focus on supporting unemployed people, aiming to maintain and develop appropriate skills and to not be accompanied by the threatened loss of welfare benefits or assistance. Employment measures must not be implemented in a way that removes income security and increases in-work poverty.
  5. Tackle Low Pay by supporting the Living Wage concept and moving toward a Basic Income System:  Start to tackle low-paid employment by supporting the widespread adoption of the Living Wage, including giving public recognition to organisations (including SMEs) that commit to paying the Living Wage, and consider moving toward a basic income system.
  6. Develop Sustainable Approaches to taxation and increase the tax take: Sustainable and inclusive growth requires approaches to raising revenue that generate enough to support vital services and to move to a social investment approach. Measures should not disproportionately negatively affect low income groups, which means, amongst other things, avoiding increases in indirect taxes on essential items.
  7. Tackle Tax Evasion: Tax evasion and the grey economy are a particular problem in some countries where a disproportionate burden falls on compliant tax-payers. Tax evasion must be tackled and fair taxation systems introduced in which all sectors of society, including the corporate sector, contribute a fair share and those who can afford to do pay more.
  8. Consider how Government could become an employer of last resort:  Given the ongoing impact of unemployment, governments in badly affected countries should consider being an employer of last resort through voluntary programmes framed so as not to distort the market economy.
  9. Ensure Inclusive Governance and promote Social Dialogue: Engage with key stakeholders to ensure that groups at risk of poverty and social exclusion, and unemployed people can influence policy-direction and implementation, and that their experiences become part of the dialogue with national and European institutions to try and repair social cohesion and political legitimacy.
  10. Poverty Proofing and Monitoring: All Government decisions should be subject to a poverty-proofing process that ensures actions taken will not increase poverty under any heading or cumulatively impact negatively on any particular groups. Integrate social assessments of the impacts of policy changes into decision-making processes that focus beyond short-term cost saving. Use macroeconomic modelling processes to assess the impact of proposed changes in social policies.
  11. Avail of the social investment aspects of the programming of EU funds to fund measures that address the social situation, including support for initiatives set out in the EU’s Social Investment Package such as supporting social enterprises or facilitating the implementation of the Recommendation on Investing in Children.
  12. Commit to appropriate regional strategies that ensure that investment is balanced between the regions, with due regard to sub-regional areas, aiming to ensure that rural development policy is underpinned by goals of social, economic, and environmental wellbeing.

[1] See also Building a New Social Contract – Policy Recommendations, https://www.socialjustice.ie/content/publications/building-new-social-c…