Vertti Kiukas
Secretary General, SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health

Jiri Sironen
Chair, EAPN­-Fin, Finnish Anti-Poverty Network

Online publication Future of Europe
© SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health, February 2019

The European Union is faced with an exceptional year: in addition to the European Parliament elections and the start of a new Commission, Great Britain, one of the biggest member states, might leave the Union in near future.

For Finland, this year is particularly interesting, as from July till the end of the year, Finland will be the President of the Union – only a few months after the Finnish Parliamentary Election and under the leadership of the new government. During the Finnish presidency, the agenda will include the priorities of the new Commission, the strategic agenda of the Council for 2019-2024, the financial framework and reflections on the Union’s future and the next growth strategy. The challenging political situation may lead to a lengthier agenda.

A prolonged economic and fiscal crisis, the differing views of the member states on immigration policy and the rule of law development as well as the polarisation and fragmentation of the political field have been characteristic of the Union’s development in recent years. The EU Commission has sought to meet these challenges by commencing talks about the future of the EU.

In social and health issues, the actions of the present Juncker’s Commission have been contradictory. The follow-up of the social objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and the European Platform against Poverty have partially been discontinued prior to the closing of the strategy. The EU’s Health Programme will not continue in its present form. However, the European Pillar of Social Rights is an important opening, although so far without practical content. The EU has been active in planning the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030, but implementation has been left unfinished.

It is clearly easier to talk about the building of social Europe than to do it. The Commission monitors the economy and activities of the member states with the help of the European Semester. Its main objective is to ensure that the member states uphold the criteria of the Economic and Monetary Union and steer them to make structural changes. In the past few years, the social aspect of the European Semester has been developed. However, the social observations and criteria do not gain similar leverage as the economic, insofar as no follow-up is required from the member states. Hence, the economy and wellbeing should be put in a more appropriate balance in relation to each other.

NGOs of social and health sector and civil society at large should participate more strongly in the discussion on the activities of the Union. Social and health NGOs wish to put the wellbeing economy in the centre of the EU discussion. In the wellbeing economy, the aim is always to increase the wellbeing of people and to improve the potential for good life. They are the primary goals. Other goals such as economic growth, maintaining the welfare state and spreading democracy are subordinate to them. Services promoting wellbeing and good life, such as education and social and healthcare services, are the basis for economic growth: they ensure the skills, competence and health of people and are thus investments. But it should also be remembered that the basis of a welfare state can only be maintained if the public economy is on a sustainable basis. Together they interact positively.

The strengthening of the wellbeing economy thinking goes well with the sustainable development goals, reduction of inequality and a more comprehensive implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. All of these should be in the centre of the discussion on EU’s future and form the skeleton of the next growth strategy of the Union.

It is the purpose of this collection of articles to stimulate debate on social and health issues at EU level and activate advocacy activities. The actions of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health during next year’s Presidency fall under the wellbeing economy theme. It has already been well received in Europe, particularly in our own umbrella organisations. We hope that the discussion on social Europe and the wellbeing economy will continue and grow, and we wish to offer our support to the upcoming Finnish presidency.

The publication forms part of an information campaign of SOSTEn and EAPN­-Fin More Humane Europe – Our Future Europe – Information on Securing Wellbeing. We rejoice that experts from different fields have contributed to our collection of articles. Our warmest thanks to all of them. Thank you also for the support of the Europe Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which enabled the implementation of this online publication.

In Helsinki, November 2018

This is an article of the online publication Future of Europe.
© SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health, February 2019