The Laeken Declaration rightfully underlines that “citizens want results in the field of employment and combating poverty and social exclusion”. In the series of questions addressed to the Convention, it asks “how can we intensify cooperation in the field of social inclusion…?” This paper sets out the broad areas where reform is necessary in order to enhance combating poverty and social exclusion in the European Union.
The Convention must seize on the unique opportunity it has been given to transform the European Union from a Union essentially based on the building of an internal market into a Union for all, based on equal opportunity for all, solidarity at home and abroad.
EAPN recommends the following:
1. Making the eradication and the prevention of poverty and social exclusion an objective of the European Union and not just of the Union’s social policy.
While recognising that poverty and social exclusion are best dealt with at national or subnational level, it must be acknowledged that the Union’s general policies have an impact at national and local level. Making the eradication and prevention of poverty and social exclusion an objective of the Union will make possible and necessary the mainstreaming of the issues of poverty and social exclusion throughout all Union’s policies and programmes, as well as the poverty and social exclusion impact assessment of those policies.
2. Including a social inclusion chapter in the new Treaty
This would provide for the inclusion in the Treaty of the “open method of coordination” in the field of poverty and social exclusion as set out by heads of State and Government at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000. The chapter should make provision for the adoption of a framework directive to combat poverty and social exclusion.
3. Strengthening and including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Treaty
The Charter should be improved in relation to such fundamental rights as the right to housing, to work and to a minimum income, and included in the Treaty.
4. Providing for solidarity within the EU budget
Regional and cohesion policies should allow for a more equal sharing of wealth and opportunity, in particular through the Structural Funds.
5. Providing for a European fiscal policy
Fiscal competition between member states is detrimental to a fair budgetary policy. Some degree of tax harmonisation is needed in order to preserve the capacity of member states to develop and maintain services and to carry out policies of redistribution.
6. Providing the right legal framework for services of general interest
Access for all to collective goods and services (water, gas and electricity, telephone, transport, education, health care, social services etc.) must be improved and safeguarded. Competition rules should be waived whenever necessary for the development of the above mentioned goods and services.
7. Strengthening the external role of the Union
The Treaty should provide for the Union to contribute to a better regulation of the international markets with a view to support a sustainable social development model based on access for all to fundamental rights both within the European Union and in third countries.
8. Providing for the right to civil dialogue at sectoral and cross-sectoral level
This would give some substance to the many official statements on the important role played by civil society as well as to the White Paper on Governance.