On 20 May, the College of Commissioners adopted the European Commission’s Spring Package, including Country-Specific Recommendations (CSRs) for 28 Member States surveillance reports for Greece, Cyprus, and Spain. The 2020 CSRs were expected to reflect the ‘new’ direction of the Annual Sustainable Growth Survey, “promoting competitive sustainability to build economy that works for people and the planet” based on four priorities: stability, fairness, environmental sustainability and competitiveness. However, since March 2020, the EU has been radically impacted by the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the ‘normal’ European Semester process, threatening a huge negative social, health and economic impact across the EU. EAPN’s main concern is to see how far the CSRs would adapt to this context, put people first, and embed social rights through short-term support with long-term effective action to reduce poverty.
EAPN strongly welcomes:
- the commitment to implement the escape clause from the Stability and Growth Pact and the overall support to MS emergency support measures, (with a concern remaining around possible future austerity measures aimed at recovering public debt and deficits);
- poverty as a clear focus, although in slightly fewer CSRs, with many CSRs strongly acknowledging that the epidemic is likely to exacerbate existing inequalities;
- the greater focus on increasing the adequacy and coverage of income support or income replacement (minimum income and social protection). However, there is less of a focus on specific target groups, quality or inclusive work, inclusive, affordable universal health and long-term care (although healthcare is covered for all MS), education and affordable social housing and other Services of General Interest as public goods.
During the implementation phase, it will be vital that a coherent social and sustainable Agenda 2030 strategy can provide the framework for delivering an existing strategy that makes serious inroads on poverty, and which embeds social rights as well as the green transition through public social investment. Austerity measures must be avoided and tax revenue and progressivity increased. Although there is increased positive support for Social Partners and collective bargaining, the European Semester is still reneging on its legal commitments to embrace Civil Society as an active and equal partner in the European Semester.
These are our 12 key messages:
- Important backing for emergency measures, but threat of austerity cuts to recoup deficits. Welcome challenges to aggressive tax planning but progressive tax justice is notably lacking.
- Exit Strategies support green + digital transition but insufficient focus on ‘inclusive transition’, investing in social rights, welfare states and public services.
- 14 MS received poverty CSRs highlighting impact of COVID on existing poverty with some useful measures but lacking an integrated antipoverty strategy.
- Too many left behind! No CSRs for at-risk target groups, nor any concrete measures: particularly with respect to the homeless, Roma and ethnic minorities, migrants, families with children and people with disabilities.
- Welcome focus on adequacy/coverage of minimum income with important call for progress towards social protection for all as a social right, regardless of employment status.
- Insufficient guarantees with regard to access to essential services and to considering the social impact and cost of privatisation of public services.
- Health and long-term care a new priority! – but needs a stronger focus on universal access, unmet needs, a rights-based approach, public service principles and public investment.
- Employability and skills development still priorities for overcoming new challenges due to the COVID19 pandemic, but no mention of promoting inclusive labour markets or active inclusion.
- Quality of work insufficiently prioritised and in-work poverty largely ignored, but more weight given to the role of Public Employment Services and social partners.
- Education and training still primarily seen as labour market tools, despite some attention given to inclusiveness, quality, and vulnerable groups.
- Inclusive and quality education is largely off the radar, and the strong link between disadvantaged socioeconomic background and poor educational outcomes is not included in the CSRs.
- Continued improvements to social dialogue but much more needed on civil dialogue and the meaningful involvement of civil society organisations.