The Commission’s Communication to the European Spring Council has caused shock and dismay amongst social NGOs, including the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN). The dropping of Social Cohesion as a priority objective, the failure to mention the EU Inclusion Strategy and the ignoring of the commitment given by Heads of State and Government in Lisbon to bring forward a strategy aimed at making a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty in the EU is incomprehensible.
“This failure is not only an affront to the 68 million people who live in the EU facing poverty and social exclusion but to all people who defend a European Social Model”, stated Fintan Farrell, Director of EAPN. “It is not enough that social policies are only reflected in the Social Agenda and the Sustainable Development Strategy but must also be part of the priority objectives as defined by the Lisbon agenda”. According to EAPN, this Communication responds only to one voice, that of the High Level Group chaired by Wim Kok. This group was dominated by big business interests and any voice that would have represented the views of NGOs concerned with issues of poverty, inclusion or equality was excluded from the group.
A return to a flawed Development Model
In Lisbon the Heads of State and Government presented a vision for the European Union based on a model of development that recognised the interdependence of economic growth, more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. The proposal in the Commission’s Communication to the Spring Council to drop the social cohesion part of the Lisbon Agenda will not make their revised agenda of “growth and jobs” any easier and will certainly not make it easier to communicate the European Union project to its citizens. The Commission’s Communication states that “After all, everyone will benefit from the future that the Lisbon agenda is trying to shape”. What evidence does the Commission have for this statement? Where have they seen that the approach of “rising tides will lift all boats” works? The evidence is rather to the contrary and that without a conscious effort to distribute the benefits of growth not all will benefit.
Growth and Jobs – Inadequate analysis
Even on its own terms of focusing on ‘growth and jobs’, the Commission fails to take account of the extent to which addressing poverty and social exclusion is needed to achieve such goals. The Communication recognises the need for the workforce to be more flexible and adaptable but once again it fails to highlight the need for reformed and good social protection systems that can provide the security that is needed for such a flexible and adaptable workforce.
The Communication repeats that jobs are an important part of addressing poverty and social exclusion but its analysis is inadequate in terms of ensuring not only more jobs but also better jobs. The reality is that while some 4.5 million Europeans are unemployed and facing poverty, the number for those in work and facing poverty is more than 10 million. The Communication fails to address this reality.
Already major steps have been taken to simplify reporting on the social areas into the Spring Council. The absolute failure of the Commission in this Communication to take account of its own Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion is staggering. This reality coupled with the line in the Communication, “This new reporting process will provide a mechanism through which the European Council and the European Parliament can focus on key policy issues without being encumbered by the multitude of Sectoral reports which are currently part of the annual cycle” seems to suggest that the high level political leaders in the EU are too busy to have to address issues of social protection and social inclusion.
Why ignore one of the important successes since Lisbon?
In Lisbon Heads of State and Government for the first time recognised that the extent of poverty in the EU was unacceptable and agreed to bring forward a strategy aimed at making a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty. The failure to recognise the progress achieved so far and to maintain this development as part of a balanced Lisbon strategy will be inexplicable to the 68 million who face poverty and social exclusion and to all those concerned with social inclusion.
“The message coming through from the Commission’s communication seems to be that the European Union is for profits and not for people and this is not the sort of message that is likely to generate active cooperation. This is not the Europe we want”, concluded Fintan Farrell, Director of EAPN.
For further information, please contact Vincent Forest (Information officer) or Fintan Farrell (Director), tel. +32 2 230 44 55 – fax. +32 2 230 97 33 – E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org