Impressions from the reception “Imagine Europe – In search of new narratives”.
Philippe Veldeman

Dinner Conference: Can Europe’s social dimension be strengthened without a deepening of Europe?


Stakeholders discussed how the EU can help steer its member states toward the goal of achieving a social triple-A rating at the “Revitalising welfare states – what role for the EU?” dinner conference held in Brussels.

On May 31, 2016, the Bertelsmann Stiftung invited 100 representatives from the EU, its individual member states and civil society for an evening of discussion at the Centre for Fine Arts Brussels “BOZAR” in which the findings of the Vision Europe Summit were presented. The event began with a visit to the "Imagine Europe – In search of new narratives" exhibit, thereby preparing participants for a discussion about whether an EU able to facilitate upward social convergence and social inclusion is a feasible EU narrative of the future. 

The EU Commission, under President Jean-Claude Juncker’s leadership, has declared its intention to prioritize an EU worthy of a social triple-A rating. In his opening remarks, Eric Thode (Bertelsmann Stiftung, Director International Forums and Trends) laid out the framework of what this might entail.

Commissioner Thyssen opened the discussion.

The goal of the dinner conference was to shed light on how EU member states might be supported in achieving this goal and what a realistic allocation of tasks might involve. Marion Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, opened the discussion and introduced the Commission’s European pillar of social rights. This pillar is intended to build on, and complement the EU’s social acquis and thereby steer social and labor market policies in the right direction. The 20 recommended principles are not intended to replace existing legislation, but rather should serve as a means of assessing the performance of member states’ social and employment policies while targeting upward convergence across the EU.

Social investment – but how?

Two additional thought-provoking talks were held throughout the dinner. Professor Anton C. Hemerijck (Free University Amsterdam and London School of Economics) recommended a flexibilization of the stability and growth pact with respect to social investment, which would allow EU member states to increase investment in education and to target active labor market polices and the well-being of children. As investments in future productivity levels, expenditures in these areas could be excluded from the deficit ceiling. Member of European Parliament Danuta Jazłowiecka introduced the question of whether a deepened Europe is needed in order to achieve a more social Europe. These talks and more provided ample input for the discussion among participants that was moderated by Eric Thode. The contributions throughout showed that the targeted goal is considerably less controversial than are the means to this end. The exact nature and construct of the allocation of tasks among member states, as well as the EU’s (financial) instruments, were the subject of considerable debate throughout the evening.

Picture Gallery: Dinner Conference “Revitalising welfare states – what role for the EU?”

Background Information

Background Information

As an initiative of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the Vision Europe network of eight European think tanks and foundations was established in 2015. Through research, publications and an annual summit, the network serves as a forum for debate and a source of recommendations for Europe’s future. Members include: Bertelsmann Stiftung (Germany), Bruegel (Belgium), Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal), CASE (Warsaw), Chatham House (Great Britain), Compagnia di San Paolo (Italy), Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra (Finland) and Jacques Delors Institute (France).