EAPN presents its members’ assessment of the 2019 Country Reports for EU Member States: No Time for Complacency. Members monitored progress on the Europe 2020 poverty target and the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights as well as follow up on 2018 Country-Specific Recommendations. At the end, members make their proposals for Country-Specific Recommendations 2019.
Country Reports assess the progress of each Member State in addressing the issues identified in the previous CSRs, including an in-depth review under the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure. For Member States with a macro-economic adjustment programme, the Report discusses progress with the implementation of reforms. The Country Reports provide the basis for dialogue with Member States in bilateral meetings and feed into the preparation of National Reform Programmes (as well as Stability / Convergence Programmes), submitted by Member States in April. They also provide a key moment for stakeholder engagement.
Disappointingly, the European Commission’s Communication to the Country Reports does not reflect the slightly more positive social dimension in the AGS. It focuses entirely on progress on structural reform, i.e. the prevention and correction of macroeconomic imbalances, with only 1 small mention of the European Pillar of Social Rights in the introduction as a “compass for achieving inclusive, fair and sustainable growth”. In the section on labour market, education and social policies, the priority is overwhelmingly employment for growth, focussing on technological and demographic challenges and skills, with no explicit analysis of trends in quality employment or social rights, linked to the Social Pillar. Despite recognition of Civil Society as a key partner for the first time in the AGS, systematic mention of engagement with civil society stakeholders is not apparent. Although the Communication underlines the opportunity offered by the Semester to engage in permanent dialogue with the Commission, Civil Society stakeholders are only specifically mentioned in relation to development of EU funded programmes. This is a missed opportunity to engage grassroots organisations in the European Semester as key actors supporting implementation of social rights ensuring real progress for people experiencing poverty and social exclusion.
Key Messages on Country Reports 2019
- While most countries see clear positive steps towards rebalancing economic and social concerns in the Country Reports, the macroeconomic priorities are still predominant, which leads to policy incoherence in both the Report, and the Country-Specific Recommendations.
- Social rights and poverty must be given their own separate section, with specific guidelines about its length and the issues to include, for example the Social Pillar principles and Scoreboard, as well as a comprehensive analysis of the root causes of poverty.
- The complete set of 20 principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights are neither adequately mainstreamed in the document, nor fully reflected in the Social Scoreboard indicators.
- The Social Scoreboard often obscures realities of poverty and social exclusion on the ground, while the practice of comparing to EU averages, instead of common ambitious targets, is not conducive to upward convergence on social standards.
- Promising progress in more and better engagement of civil society in the processes around the drafting of Country Reports, but more can be done.
Key Messages for Country-Specific Recommendations 2019
- Socialize macroeconomic policies to reduce poverty / inequality and implement social rights, including embedding transparent ex-ante poverty / social impact assessment.
- Give systematic priority to reducing poverty and implementing social rights, requiring progress on EU2020 targets with a specific chapter in the Country Report, delivered through an integrated anti-poverty / active inclusion strategy.
- Require urgent action to increase the adequacy, coverage and take up of minimum income and social protection to take people out of poverty.
- Embed personalized support into quality jobs with living wages, as part of a genuinely inclusive labour market.
- Invest in universal, free, quality public education / training and lifelong learning, including early childhood education and care.
- Guarantee rights for all to affordable essential services, particularly housing and health.
- Promote integrated strategies for key at-risk groups – particularly Investing in Children, tackling housing exclusion and homelessness, inclusion of Roma and migrants.
- Embed participation and partnership with NGOs at all stages, including as crucial partners in the delivery of EU funds.