On 19-21 September 2002, EAPN held its thirteenth General Assembly in Berlin. This year the key note theme was: “Putting Rights at the Centre of the EU Strategy against Social Exclusion”. At the end of the General Assembly, the EAPN delegates coming from the 15 member states of the European Union joined by colleagues from the candidate countries adopted the following declaration.
EAPN recognises the importance of the initiative taken by the European Council of Lisbon (2000), when the heads of States and Governments agreed to “make a decisive impact on poverty by 2010” through adopting policies based on the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). They included combining common objectives, National Action Plans and a European programme to encourage cooperation in this field. EAPN also welcomed the objectives set for this strategic approach at the subsequent Nice Council and the work on indicators agreed at the Laeken Council.
As the European Union prepares for its most ambitious enlargement to date, it is appropriate that the General Assembly of EAPN met in the united city of Berlin. EU enlargement will lead to a genuine unity of Europe’s peoples only if political and economic unification is founded on a true social union. It is urgent that the EU takes decisive action to end poverty and social exclusion and to guarantee basic social and economic rights to all. It is not acceptable that economic growth has been accompanied in many EU member states by widening inequality. In many countries, people in poverty are losing access to basic rights and services which were once taken for granted. Unemployment affecting particular groups is a cause for serious concern. Its impact may return people or cause others to move into poverty and social exclusion. The development of the ‘European social model’ must protect and extend the rights of the most vulnerable, and not undermine them.
EAPN acknowledges that these problems are closely connected with the negative effects of globalisation and liberalization. These greatly influence the world’s economic and social decisions, while failing to take account of social aims and objectives. EAPN as a European network, and through its affiliated national networks and European organisations, has sought to be actively engaged in promoting the interests of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion in all aspects of the EU strategy on social inclusion and has paid particular attention to the process of developing, adopting and implementing the National Action Plans in this field.
EAPN through its efforts to engage with the first round of National Action Plans has expressed the view that, to date, the National Action Plans have been by and large a reporting exercise to the EU institutions. They are not the promised impetus for the real change needed to make a decisive impact on poverty by 2010. EAPN has also expressed its disappointment at the lack of visibility for this important EU strategy even among those in public administration, who are involved in implementing policies related to combating poverty and social exclusion.
In the context of the debate of the Convention on the future of Europe, upcoming enlargement of the EU, and the preparation of the second round of National Action Plans, EAPN calls on decision-makers in Europe to take actions that would ensure the effective exercise of the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion for all who live in the European Union member states. To achieve this, actions must include:
At the next Inter Governmental Conference (IGC)
- Making the eradication and the prevention of poverty and social exclusion an objective in all policies of the European Union and not just of the social policy.
- Including a social inclusion chapter in the new Treaty.
- Strengthening and including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Treaty.
- Emphasise the key role of NGOs, through the creation of a Treaty Article on civil dialogue.
Within this, the voice of people living in poverty and social exclusion and their organisations should be recognised.
In the preparation and implementation of the next round of National Action Plans (NAPsincl)
- Promoting universal access to rights, including the resources, goods and services necessary to participate fully in society such as the right to decent housing, social services, health care, education, training and good quality employment, which would include measures to combine professional and family life.
- Improving the knowledge of the potential beneficiaries of rights, informing them about their rights and supporting and resourcing their exercise of those rights.
- Developing a clearer articulation of policy formation and delivery between the national, regional and local levels.
- Indicating clear budget commitments for the measures described in the National Action Plans including the contribution of Structural Funds and in particular the European Social Fund. While also ensuring that the strategy is fully integrated into the domestic policy agendas of each Member State.
- Involving people affected by poverty and their organisations in framing, implementing and evaluating the actions under the strategy including policies promoting access to rights.
- Giving adequate attention and resources to the fourth objective, mobilizing all the actors, agreed at Nice.
- Resourcing anti-poverty NGOs in existing EU member states and candidate countries to co-operate in the development, delivery and monitoring of the National Action Plans against poverty.
In undertaking these actions the gender mainstreaming directive must be taken fully into account, as well as addressing the situation of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and people from ethnic minorities. The National Action Plans must clearly identify those groups who are experiencing – or who are likely to experience – poverty and social exclusion and ensure that the measures contained in the Plans respond to the needs of these groups and communities.
EAPN will contribute to achieving these outcomes:
- through continuing to be actively engaged with all the aspects of the strategy,
- through the sharing of the experiences gained from its member organisations,
- through engagement with other relevant actors,
- through the promotion of awareness of the strategy and the National Action Plans that are a key part of the strategy,
- through building contacts with relevant NGOs in the candidate countries