On the occasion of a preparatory meeting for the World Summit for Social Development Review (WSSD – Copenhagen+10), jointly organised by the EU Luxembourg Presidency and the European Commission in Brussels, on 13-14 January 2005, the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) has sent the following messages about reality and progress in the European Union in the field of social development.
1. Poverty and social exclusion remains a fundamental problem within the EU: 68 million people face the realities of poverty and social exclusion within the EU25. Behind this figure is the struggle of people who cannot have their fundamental rights met and who pay the price of this failure with threats to their health and well being.
2. The WSSD was an important catalyst for new developments within the EU and EU Member States: “The recognition within the Copenhagen declaration and programme for action that addressing poverty was also an issue within wealthy nations was very important, stated Fintan Farrell, Director of EAPN on the occasion of the preparatory meeting. The Development of National Anti Poverty Strategies on foot of the Copenhagen commitments in countries such as Ireland, Belgium and France and the exchange of experience that followed was an important forerunner to the development of an EU strategy”.
3. The Lisbon Strategy is an important advance in relation to social policy and the fight against poverty and exclusion in the EU: According to EAPN, the Lisbon Strategy was a significant redefining of the objectives of EU cooperation. Fintan Farrell continued: “The recognition by Heads of State and Government that the extent of poverty within the EU was unacceptable and that there was a need of bringing forward a strategy to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty by 2010 was a huge step forward”. The EU Inclusion Strategy and the National Action Plans on Inclusion have provided a significant tool for exchange of experience in the fight against poverty and social exclusion and a place for a European Debate on social policy. However, EAPN wants to stress that the EU Employment Strategy is not really working for inclusion.
4. There is little or no real commitment to maintain the balanced agenda set in Lisbon: The Copenhagen Consensus on the need for balanced development (economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing) created some momentum with regards questioning the dominant development model. Despite their words in Lisbon there is little or no real commitment from the top political levels to maintain the balanced agenda set in Lisbon. This is evident in the reports from Governments on the Mid-Term Review of Lisbon and all too evident in the report of the high level group chaired by Wim Kok.
EAPN hopes that the strength of the approach of the Luxembourg Presidency can make the declaration in Lisbon of a balanced agenda a reality, despite all present warning signs.
5. The EU Inclusion Strategy must be taken seriously: The mechanisms within the EU Inclusion Strategy must be put on a par with those of the Employment Strategy, and create a response to the question of wealth distribution. The recommendations from the Inclusion Strategy and the other areas in social protection must be reflected in the broad economic policy guidelines and in the Spring Council processes; the fight against poverty and exclusion must be supported by the Structural Funds and by the Employment strategy as well as been reflected in all other areas of EU policies and actions.
“There needs to be poverty proofing of all EU policies, for example the possible impact of competition in services of general interest on people experiencing poverty”, said Fintan Farrell. “We also need stronger instruments at EU level, such as social standards in relation to the fight against poverty and an EU Directive on Social Protection including the fight against poverty and social exclusion”, he added.
6. Addressing poverty and social exclusion and ensuring the protection of a European Social Model are not minor issues relating to a small section of the European Union population but are at the very core of whether the EU will have the confidence of the majority of people who live within the EU.
“There should be no false competition created between addressing poverty and social exclusion domestically and the need to address the depth of poverty and social exclusion in the so-called developing world”, Fintan Farrell concluded.