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Strengthening the centre (“middle class”) – the cornerstone of Europe

Resolution adopted by the EPP Political Assembly, Brussels, 4th-5th December 2017

There are many competing definitions of what it means to be “middle class”, some focus more on income while others tend to look at social and cultural factors. The EPP’s definition is very inclusive because we do not want to define people based on their income levels. For us the term “middle class” represents all the people who want to work, contribute to society and improve both their own lives and the lives of those around them. They are the people who keep businesses operating and societies running, as they pay for a fair share of our services and benefits. In order to have vibrant economies and well-working societies in which people trust each other, we must make sure that everyone has an opportunity to become a member of the middle class, as we understand it, and to give to everyone the possibility to feel included, safe and fairly treated.

Equality of opportunity is one of the key policies of the European People’s Party, and we want to ensure that we have a growing and flourishing middle class. A vibrant and thriving middle class is the backbone of a functioning democracy, growing economy and prosperous society. Many citizens have written to us through our Dearcitizen.eu campaign to express to us their ideas, concerns and questions. Many have written about jobs, economic security and the opportunity to secure a comfortable life for themselves and their families. All these are concerns and questions every one of us can relate to.

The situation of the middle class throughout the EU varies a lot. Over the last 10 years, the middle class as a proportion of the population has remained the same in most EU countries, and there are even countries in which the situation of the middle class has been strengthened. But unfortunately, there are also countries where the middle class has shrunk and come under pressure. Moreover, there are signs that, for many people, concerns about the future have increased and that as a result people’s subjective perceptions vis-à-vis their future have taken a beating. We must reassure people through sound policies.

It is clear to us that the key to everything is employment. The financial crisis touched everyone but hit working people hardest, particularly through unemployment. EU countries fared in different ways with regard to unemployment, with some recovering to pre-crisis levels much quicker than others; this disparity has left its mark on the middle class. We must make sure that our labour markets are both flexible and fair. When unemployment hits, we must have the right services to help people find a new job. And even more importantly, we must have the right policies in place so that new jobs and companies are created.

In addition to employment, we must focus on social mobility. Many people have written to us with concerns for their children’s future. We are committed to the idea that education remains the best way to ensure a fulfilling future and to equip children and adults alike with skills that will help them prosper in an ever-changing world. The Social Pillar is an important element to build a more inclusive society.

Taxation and fairness must go hand in hand. Much of taxes and public services are paid by the middle class. We must ensure that these citizens are not unduly burdened by high tax rates and that tax rates encourage both work and entrepreneurship.

  1. Boosting employment – providing stability

We must make sure that work is encouraged and that in a world in which technology develops very rapidly we have the right means at our disposal to facilitate timely transitions from one kind of job to another. If technology or changing trade patterns force in turn a structural change to the labour market, we must ensure access to education and skills training to help people learn the new skills they will need. In this context, it is of the utmost importance that academic institutions also adapt their teaching programmes according to what the market needs, so it is easier for graduates to find employment. This will become ever more important with further robotisation, digitalisation and the development of Artificial Intelligence. At the same time, we must be prepared to address job polarisation and give opportunities for those in middle-skill levels to upgrade their skills in order to have the capabilities to succeed in the shifting labour market. We can pre-empt certain problems by investing in active labour market policies. At the same time, we cannot forget that it is important for families that both parents be encouraged, and have an opportunity, to work. Therefore, the European People’s Party:

  • Calls on Member States to implement family and social policies to strengthen families and enable both parents to work to increase families’ overall economic stability;
  • Recognises that a high level of employment, in a labour market that is both flexible and fair, is the key to having a strong middle class;
  • Calls on Member States to reform their labour markets in order to make them more flexible, including adequate protections and mechanisms of support to facilitate employees’ transitioning quickly into new careers if they are hit by massive layoffs;
  • Calls on Member States, in order to further promote lifelong learning, to adopt pre-emptive policies to tackle job polarisation and to guarantee, for all citizens, both access to, and the affordability of, the chance to upgrade their existing skills or to acquire new skills.
  1. Strengthening the “Social lift” – opportunities for all

Being part of the middle class is not only about having a certain income level, since people’s understanding of the term itself is always relative to others around them in their society. The term must be both inclusive and aspirational: something for which to strive and yet something all can achieve. According to studies, parents’ education level has a big impact on their children’s eventual education level as well, and this is largely due to social and cultural factors. We must ensure that education remains the surest way to a prosperous future. We must ensure that people can reach their aspirations and goals regardless of their background. Therefore, the European People’s Party:

  • Recognises that equality of opportunity is one of the key tenets of the European People’s Party and that it is an integral part of having a fair society in which everyone has an opportunity to fulfil his or her aspirations;
  • Calls on Member States to invest in the future by guaranteeing every child’s access to high-quality education, from primary to tertiary level;
  • Calls on Member States to incentivise participation in re-training and skills trainings for employees both within the labour market and outside of it.
  1. Fair taxation – encouraging working and investing

The middle class pay much of all taxes collected and hence provide a lot toward public services. It is very important that taxation encourage both working and investing, and that we make sure we do not overburden the middle class but rather aim to reduce their tax levels. It is important that taxation be considered fair, especially by those who pay the largest share. At the same time, it is crucial for families’ long-term prosperity that tax systems encourage investing. Therefore, the European People’s Party:

  • Recognises that the middle class bears a large share of the tax burden;
  • Demands that taxation systems and levels be fair and encourages remaining in, or accepting, work;
  • Affirms its support for low taxes and a lower regulatory burden.