The Flagship Initiative A European Agenda for New Skills and Jobs was put forward by the European Commission last November and is currently pending endorsement by the European Parliament and the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO). This Flagship represents the European Commission’s contribution to the employment target of the Europe 2020 Strategy, stipulating that the employment rate of people in the European Union needs to reach 75% by 2020.
EAPN is pleased that a number of concerns are picked up by the document, such as the role of increased social protection and benefits in alleviating poverty, more emphasis on job creation and the demand side, new impetus for quality of work, explicit mentioning of supported pathways to the labour market, increasing security and not just flexibility, support for lifelong learning, inside and outside the labour market, focus on migrants and ethnic minorities including the Roma, and acknowledgement of the importance of care, health and other social services. These are issues that EAPN has been steadily upholding for the past years, and is glad to see them integrated. Likewise, EAPN welcomes the mentioning of NGOs amongst stakeholders, as well as the clear references to the targets use of Structural Funds for key vulnerable groups.
Despite these significant steps forward, a number of missed opportunities indicate that employment is still seen primarily as a tool to growth. No social impact assessment is foreseen for employment measures, and there is little evidence of the Commission exploring a positive interplay between the employment and the poverty target, in order to foster more social cohesion and inclusive growth. Also, there is little evidence of mainstreaming the Active Inclusion strategy in the document, despite its high relevance for providing people with security and dignity, whether inside or outside of the labour market. The concept of job quality is, sadly, restricted to health and safety at work, without taking into account crucial elements, such as wages and security of contracts. Regarding skills provision, more efforts need to ensure that all groups benefit from access to affordable, high-quality education, as well as that the austerity packages do not endanger these efforts. Finally, the direct involvement of people experiencing poverty, the unemployed and their organisations could be much strengthened by providing a framework for dialogue. EAPN also calls for a substantial amount of Structural Funds, 20%, to be used to achieve the poverty target, through combating in-work poverty and supporting pathways to inclusion, as well as by backing comprehensive Active Inclusion approaches.