09/10/2015 – Today EAPN released its EAPN Assessment of the National Reform Programmes 2015 –Can the Semester Deliver on Poverty and Participation? at its Annual Policy Conference held in partnership with and at the premises of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). The report, strongly welcomed by the attendance including high-level representatives, provides a synthesis of EAPN members’ assessment of the 2015 National Reform Programmes. Each of the 21 National EAPN Networks have assessed on how far the NRPs are delivering on the social targets of Europe 2020 (particularly the poverty target, but also the employment and education targets) and on the effectiveness of civil society stakeholders’ engagement with the governance process of the Semester and Europe 2020. The report consequently draws 3 main messages.
- Ensure macroeconomic policies deliver on social objectives
- Demonstrate a strong social dimension: an integrated anti-poverty strategy and investment in social standards
- Get serious about participation and NGO involvement
SUMMARY OF THE REPORT
The main messages from the report highlight the continued failure of the Semester to establish an adequate balance between economic and social objectives and to make progress on the target to reduce poverty. The loss of visibility to Europe 2020 and the targets in the NRPs has reinforced the narrow macroeconomic focus, still prioritizing harmful “austerity” measures which are cutting vital benefits and services, with little visible concern around limiting the social impact, although some countries have made limited efforts to improve the adequacy of their social systems.
Some countries have seen a more visible return to growth and investment., however the focus is mainly on large infrastructure projects aiming only at stimulating growth. But there are little signs ofinvestment in good quality jobs in health, education and social services which can address the ageing population and need for a healthy well educated workforce, as well as ensuring adequate qualitysocial protection. Opportunities to promote inclusive growth-friendly taxation which can support better redistribution, reduce inequality and finance social protection systems, havealso generally not been seized.
In terms of social policies, there are few NRPs which give a strong focus to the poverty target, nor provide a clear justification for current trends or comprehensive strategies to achieve it. There is a ‘concept gap’ around what works – with an over-reliance on ‘a job at any price’ and increasing conditionality to ‘make work pay’ as the main solution to poverty, despite the lack of quality jobs, growing in-work poverty and precariousness. There are worryingly few signs of investment in integratedActive Inclusion approaches, underpinned by strong social protection systems.
The focus on ‘individual priority groups’,apart from youth, too often appears adhoc, rather than an evidence-basedappraisal of actual at-risk groups in each country or implementation of agreed EU strategies (ie Investing in Children, Tackling Homelessness); policies to tackle discrimination, poverty and exclusion of migrants and ethnic minorities are also notable for their absence. Surprisingly little priority is given to reporting on the key role of ring-fencing 20% of ESF to support poverty reduction, with worrying signs of funds being usedto merely continue existing employment programmes, with limited engagement of NGO partners in Monitoring Commitees, despite the new Code of Conduct on partnership.
On the issue of participation, whilst stakeholder engagement continues to be weak and low quality in the NRPs, EAPN members report some welcome progress in a few countries, with signs of stronger pressure from the Commission and Council formations to invest in better engagement. However this engagement still falls short of genuine dialogue which can engage civil society as partners in the design, delivery and implementation of key programmes to deliver key social objectives and reduce poverty.