The conference called for urgent action to stop austerity measures, accept a more flexible approach to the debt crisis, based on solidarity, and back a new type of a new type of Marshall Plan – backing social investment in jobs, services and social protection and greater transparency and participative governance.
There was unanimous support for a call for solidarity with the Greek people, backing an adequate bail-out package that can enable a realistic restructuring of the debt, and a halt in the attack on social rights.
EAPN also called for like-minded groups to work together to develop a strong common agenda and dynamic alliance for change and for the EU institutions to open its doors and debates to ensure an active, inclusive debate.
Background and key demands
EAPN’s working paper: Re-engaging Hope and Expectations – Getting out of the Crisis Together, served as a background to the debate. Its 12 proposals were debated and supported by a wide-range of key actors: trade unions, social and environmental NGOs, local, regional and national governments, academics and alternative think tanks as well as grass-roots anti-poverty NGOs and people experiencing poverty. Key EU institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, Social Protection Committee, EESC) also took part in the debate.
All stakeholders acknowledged that the EU is at a cross-roads. It has failed to achieve convincing national poverty targets, falling far short of the much touted EU objective “to take at least 20 million people out of poverty by 2020’’. It is clear that a focus on only growth and jobs is not sufficient to achieve this goal.
“Even in the boom years, poverty didn’t fall. What is clear is that the poor will suffer more from the austerity measures than from the original crisis’’ highlighted Katherine Duffy, EAPN expert and author of the working paper. More worryingly, she explained, the narrow neo-liberal EU approach to the crisis focussed on reducing public deficits at all costs mainly through social cuts, without investment or stimulus, undermining solidarity between people and regions is destined to failure. This approach is condemning millions to a worsening standard of living, undermining the effective functioning of the economy, prospects of sustainable growth and creating a deepening pit of poverty for an increasing number of people.
At the core of the conference was the direct voice of people experiencing poverty – who are being blamed and made to pay for a crisis they did not cause.
Justine Bark, from the UK highlighted, in her crisis blog, presented in the conference: “I have done nothing wrong yet feel I am somewhat punished for being unemployed. People have a view now that benefits means cars, posh house, lazy, better off than those who work. Well let me tell you its garbage. It is a miserable existence as you not only find it difficult to manage financially, emotionally but have to defend yourself, not to mention the hoops you have to jump through daily to satisfy a system that is so wrong”.
In the plenary debate, both Marcel Haag (Secretariat General, European Commission) and Laurens Beets (Chair of the SPC), recognized the negative social impact of austerity measures and the need to reinforce social protection systems.
“This crisis is testing solidarity – so it’s even more relevant to act together. Austerity measures have constraints – more attention must be paid to the social aspects’’ said Laurens Beets. “Fiscal constraints are impacting on social budgets with increasing risk of poverty – a key challenge is to avoid lower social protection levels’’ confirmed Marcel Haag.
The lack of transparency and open debate on alternatives involving grass-roots actors, was another key concern, undermining confidence in the EU to find democratic and viable solutions which can deliver on its paper commitments, which are putting the EU at risk.
The conference backed EAPN’s Working Paper’s call for:
- Open and inclusive governance – involving people experiencing poverty and anti-poverty NGOs and other stakeholders in the decision-making process in Europe 2020.
- Save the Euro, but not by sacrificing solidarity. Backing for Eurobonds, flexible deficit and currency management, commitment to social and economic governance
- Putting full employment and social protection, including minimum income at the heart of Europe
- Backing the role of the state in guaranteeing universal, equitable welfare
- A social investment pact: investing in education, health, social services, housing, social protection and transition to green and white jobs.
- Global sharing our wealth and knowledge – achievement of 0.7% commitments, millennium development goals and backing to a social floor.
- Distributing wealth fairly – EU minimum wage and EU minimum income.
- Tax solidarity – progressive income tax, wealth tax, financial transactions tax, closing down tax havens, loopholes and competition.
- Supporting people through active inclusion, and investment in NGOs
- Support for regions and localities, with delivery on the 20% commitment to Structural Funds on social inclusion
- Provide a level playing field for small business and social economy.
- Measuring our progress – beyond GDP, support for multiple index of social and sustainable well-being which can re-focus our priorities.
·Useful documents: EAPN reports on the social impact of the crisis: