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What are the effects of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) - a non-binding proclamation of 20 social rights at EU level - on EU social policymaking? Since the initiative was adopted in 2017, we can observe an increased attention to social issues at EU-level, inter alia the adoption of the Work-Life Balance Directive and the Directive on Adequate Minimum Wages. This is in so far surprising, as EU social policymaking is an integration-sensitive policy field and social and labour policy are by-and-large a national competence. Many Member States attach great importance to shielding their welfare systems against EU influence. In her PhD thesis, Sophie Dura aims to explore the effects of the EPSR on policy instruments that advance social rights at EU level. The public defence of her thesis is on 28 March 2023 at 15 h. Supervisors are Prof. A.A.M. Schrauwen and Prof. J.H. Zeitlin.

Studying the Social Pillar’s effects through an actor-centred Framework

In order to study the effects of a soft initiative like the EPSR, my thesis relies on an actor-centred constructivist framework and sociological insights. My main argument is that the EPSR had a remarkably active effect on EU social policymaking since its adoption in 2017, which also shows that the obstacles to EU social policy (limited legislative competences, Member States vetoing EU initiatives, bias of the Commission towards liberalisation) are less binding than often stated in the literature. Those effects result from the use of the non-binding initiative by actors in the EU interested in advancing more social position at EU level, inter alia the European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment and Social Affairs or the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. Those actors use the EPSR as an interinstitutional commitment towards social rights in order to argue for extending social protection. Through this usage, the EPSR enfolds some influence on the agenda setting processes or in negotiations with regard to the adoption of EU law or in policy coordination processes.

This finding is complemented by three other points. First, the thesis shows that key political actors in the adoption process intentionally drafted key elements of the EPSR to strengthen its legal and political authority relying on their own critical reflections on past initiatives in the field (i.e. European Employment Strategy, Lisbon Strategy). Second, the EPSR expresses a new approach of the Commission towards soft law that puts an emphasis on hybridity. Although the initiative is non-binding, it can be relied upon by the Court of Justice of the EU. Third, this thesis also shows the importance of social actors in social policy making arguing that those actors have more room for advancing social policy than structural accounts would assume.


You can find UvA dissertations and other publications in the UvA-DARE database.

You can watch this PhD defence ceremony here.