In May 1999, EAPN published “A Europe for all” calling for a European strategy to tackle exclusion patterned on the European employment strategy. In March 2000, as part of the broader goal for Europe “to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”, the Lisbon European Council identified a series of challenges to be met and officially launched the European social inclusion strategy. In Lisbon Heads of state and governments recognised for the first time that the extent of poverty and social exclusion within the European Union countries was unacceptable and they committed to ensure that their concerted efforts made “a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty” and social exclusion by the year 2010. The recent and future enlargement of the EU makes this ambition even more necessary. The Nice European Council of December 2000 transformed this statement of intent into a series of specific objectives, and National governments undertook to draw up action plans on social inclusion every two years aimed at meeting these objectives.
More than four years on from this major political pledge and after two rounds of national action plans for inclusion have been drawn up by the EU 15 Member States, and the work on the JIMs and the first plans in the ‘accession’ countries and with an eye to the definition of a new social policy agenda for 2006-2010, a stock taking is vitally important.
The inclusion strategy is an undoubted step forward in European integration. It has kept the fight against poverty and social exclusion on the political agenda, and helped shape policies and the national dialogue on this important topic. But the unacceptable fact remains that poverty is still very much with us, and equality gaps are widening. Millions of people in the European Union today are denied the opportunity to live a decent life, and see no grounds for hope of any tangible improvements in their daily lives. While to date results on the ground from this open method of coordination have been disappointing it is important to remember that this is an experience of little more than three years and must be placed in that context vis a vis the achievements of over half a century of cooperation on objectives to do with open markets and monetary union. The review of the Lisbon Agenda must be informed by this longer term perspective and ensure that the EU Inclusion strategy gains in importance that is reflected in enhanced working arrangements that enables it to meet both the immediate and longer term objective to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty.
While the Open Method of Coordination has been put in place to bring forward an EU Inclusion strategy aimed at social cohesion an opposing trend can also be detected since Lisbon. This trend places the ´competitiveness’ objective of the Lisbon agenda as an over arching objective and subordinates the objective of more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, to this competitiveness objective. Indeed it has been possible to follow many ‘high level’ debates and proposals about the implementation of the Lisbon agenda and find no reference to the social cohesion objective. This has happened despite the historical and contemporary experience that shows that a high level of competitivity is no guarantee of achieving greater social cohesion.
Against this reality EAPN, urges that the following key messages emerge clearly from the review of the Lisbon agenda:
The need to achieve a balance between Social, Employment and Economic Policies.
The need to maintain a visible and effective EU Inclusion strategy as part of the EU Social Policy Agenda.