On the occasion of the Fourth European Round Table on Social Inclusion to be held in Glasgow on 17-18 October, the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) issues the following statement:
The Round Table on Social Inclusion comes at a vital time in the development of the EU Social Inclusion Strategy. Soon after the Round Table on Social Inclusion the Heads of State and Government will meet to debate the future of the European Social Model at a special summit. This Special Summit is expected to give political leadership and orientation for the key policies and strategies of the EU. As such, the Special Summit will impact on the reform of the EU Inclusion strategy. Social NGOs wait anxiously to see if the Heads of State and Governments will recommit to the pledge they made in Lisbon in 2000, “to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty in the EU”. The evaluation of the strategy on which this reform is to be based is well advanced and it is expected that a draft proposal for the reformed EU Inclusion strategy Objectives will be available at the time of the Round Table. The Round Table should, on behalf of the 69 million people who live facing poverty in the EU, deliver a strong message to both of these important developments.
The strongest welfare states in the EU are also the most competitive
Europe needs strong Welfare States and strong Welfare states need a strong social Europe. This is the message that should go forward from the Glasgow Round Table to the Special Summit. Strong Welfare States, where the state takes on responsibility for guaranteeing comprehensive welfare for all its citizens, translate the universal values of respect for human dignity, justice and solidarity, into tangible outcomes for people. A strong Social Europe is needed to ensure cooperation between the Member States to safeguard and develop strong Welfare States capable of meeting current challenges such as demographic change, combating discrimination, changing family formations and roles within families, new work patterns, the mobility of labour and globalisation. A European Union that does not prioritise a commitment to social cohesion is likely to have the opposite impact and to put pressure on the comprehensive social provisions in existing strong welfare states and to curtail progress in this direction in other Member States.
The Special Summit should set out to restore confidence in the EU project amongst the citizens and residents of the EU. This boost in confidence is badly needed after the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by voters in France and the Netherlands and the failure to agree a future budget for the Union at the June Council earlier this year. Only by asserting that equity in society is as important as efficiency in the economy and that the Treaty articles on social cohesion are as important as those on internal market, can a majority support be won for the EU project. It is important that, at the Special Summit, the leaders do not loose sight of the fact that the strongest welfare states in the EU are also the most competitive. Equity and efficiency are not mutually exclusive and the challenge is for states that are high on efficiency but low on equity to address the weaknesses in their welfare systems and vice versa for states that are high on equity but low on efficiency.
What is needed is not a new process but rather better delivery of the existing ones
Confidence will not be built in the EU project by the right words alone. Actions must follow from these words. Part of this action must be to reinvigorate the EU Social Inclusion Strategy and for political leaders to put political energy behind the political commitment they made at the Lisbon Council of 2000, “to take actions to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty in the EU by 2010”. The reform of the EU Inclusion strategy must be built on the overarching objective of achieving greater social cohesion. This remains one of the central objectives of the Lisbon agenda as was restated by the Heads of State and Governments at the June Council earlier this year. The June Council allowed for an EU Inclusion strategy – streamlined with the EU Strategies on Pensions and health and long term care to become the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) on social protection and social inclusion – to run parallel to the Growth and Jobs strategy and for both strategies to be mutually reinforcing. It would therefore be perverse to subject the Inclusion Strategy to the overall goal of Jobs and Growth and as a consequence limit the possibility for the strategies to be mutually reinforcing in relation to the overall objectives of the Lisbon Strategy, which were unchanged in the reformed Lisbon Strategy.
The EU Inclusion Strategy is built on National Action Plans for Inclusion (NAPs Inclusion) which are based on objectives that were commonly agreed at the Nice Council in 2000 and revised in 2002. The evaluation of the strategy to date points to one clear message that what is needed is not a new process but rather better delivery of the existing ones. Better delivery will not be accomplished by a weakening of the objectives as currently agreed but rather by a strengthening of the existing objectives through including more precise and concrete demands in relation to areas such as access to housing, public services, healthcare and education. The demand for better implementation also requires the setting of more precise targets in the NAPs Inclusion. At the March European Council 2004 the Heads of States and Governments of the EU promised, “Strategies which make a decisive impact on social exclusion and on the eradication of poverty must be reinforced” the new direction for the streamlined Open Method of Coordination (OMC) on Social Protection and Social Inclusion must be judged against this promise.
EAPN Documents for the Round Table:
See Round Table on social inclusion web page.
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 – Website: http://www.eapn.org/