The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, delivered her speech on the State of the Union (SOTEU) on September 15. Below is a brief overview of EAPN’s reaction, a full version of which can be found below the summary.
The EU must address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent measures on the socio-economic recovery of people living in poverty
The EU engaged in a significant mobilisation of resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic, within and outside of the EU. The lessons learnt can be applied to tackle the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on people at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
President von der Leyen acknowledged the social and financial crisis in Europe but did not assess the impact of the measures taken on people in poverty, nor question the current economic model that caused structural poverty and inequalities, long before the pandemic began.
A missed opportunity to aim high on poverty reduction and highlight the value of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) Action Plan
President von der Leyen pointed out that the EU can now act faster than in the previous economic crisis, expecting that “19 countries will return to the pre-pandemic level already in 2021”. We acknowledge that the need to act fast does not leave enough time to find comprehensive solutions for people experiencing poverty. In the coming months therefore, a reinforced political focus on poverty in Europe is needed.
It is positive that President von der Leyen recognises the profound impact that the pandemic has had on young people through the implementation of concrete initiatives. The year 2022 will be dedicated to the European youth and the programme ALMA will be launched to provide young people with the opportunity to complete a short-term professional experience in another Member State.
An important reference to the Pillar was made but in a limited number of areas, such as decent jobs and better work-life balance. Now is the time to adopt a more holistic approach to the Pillar by integrating concrete measures for decent work, quality services and income adequacy in order to achieve the poverty reduction target.
Ending poverty is a political choice and requires systemic changes to address its structural causes stemming from an unbalanced social market economy that puts austerity and competitiveness first and then neglects the side effects, such as fragmented social justice and raising inequalities. It is crucial that people facing poverty and vulnerability benefit from more sustainable growth which may offset macroeconomic imbalances of the single market through a more equal distribution of wealth and a social-imbalance alert mechanism. We call on the European Commission to deliver on the promise of a Green Deal that leaves no one behind and that makes full use of tax justice for more social equity and less poverty.
We call on the European Commission and National/Regional Authorities to carryout civil society consultations as well as ex-ante and ex-post social and distributional impact assessments as part of their budgetary and policy reform processes, to prevent the increase of social and income inequalities to the detriment of the poor.
We call on the European Commission, the Council and Member States to keep up the political momentum of the Porto 2030 Agenda and implement the multiple initiatives of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, in order to set ambitious national targets and ensure that social rights (e.g. access to decent minimum income, fair working conditions and social protection) benefit from the same protection as economic freedoms in the single market.
Poverty is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that requires a strategic approach, adequate investment and continuous political commitment to reverse structural inequalities and ensure a functioning welfare state. EAPN believes that a European Strategy against Poverty is needed to propose concrete actions to reach the poverty reduction target and to integrate the agendas of the Green Deal, Digital Europe and the EPSR Action Plan by ensuring an equal commitment to ecological, digital and social goals.