On the eve of the Informal Meeting of the Employment and Social Affairs Ministers, on 19-20 January in Villach, Austria, the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) has reacted to the Commission’s proposals for a new framework for the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) on Social Protection and Social Inclusion. “Combating growing levels of poverty and inequality is essential for the future of the EU”, states Fintan Farrell, Director of EAPN, before his meeting – as head of the Social Platform delegation – with the Troika of Ministers.
On 22 December 2005, the European Commission adopted a Communication entitled “Working together, Working better”, which sets out the Commission’s proposals to create from Autumn 2006 a streamlined framework for further development of the OMC on Social Protection and Social Inclusion. According to Fintan Farrell, Director of EAPN, “at a time when large sections of the population believe that the over emphasis on the internal market regulations and competitiveness are undermining social protection systems, the Communication must be judged against its ability to address these concerns and to restore confidence in the EU project amongst the citizens”.
The Spring Council 2006, a key political moment
The key political moment to relaunch the OMC on Social Protection and Social Inclusion is the Spring Council 2006. For EAPN, it is essential that “this Council delivers a clear political statement restating the commitment to a balanced Lisbon Strategy including a strong and focused Social pillar based on the relaunched OMC on Social Protection and Social Inclusion and the re-statement of the commitment to the eradication of poverty in the EU”. Following on from this re-statement there should be a commitment to report on the developments in the OMC under the annual reporting on the National Reform Programmes. The EU level follow up of Lisbon Strategy should clearly address the priorities and actions identified through the OMC on Social Protection and Social Inclusion.
Important political commitments need follow up actions
The Communication can be seen as reaffirming some important political commitments and developments which were made at the Lisbon Council in 2000 or in the follow up to this Council. These commitments and developments include the following:
The achievement of Social Cohesion remains a distinct objective of the Lisbon Strategy;
The restatement of the commitment to “making a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty and social exclusion”;
The reflection of the multidimensional nature of poverty and social exclusion;
The explicit reference to achieving the objectives through “National Action Plans for Inclusion with an enhanced focus on being strategic, setting priorities and policy implementation”;
The need to mainstream social inclusion policies “into all relevant public policies, including economic, budgetary, educational and training policies and structural funds” is recognised;
The emphasis on the need for the process to continue to build on the involvement “of all levels of government and relevant actors, including people experiencing poverty” and the need for greater visibility.
However, EAPN has submitted a list of demands for follow up actions, including the following:
High level national meetings with all stakeholders organised by the Commission to create political momentum around the re-launch of the strategy;
Commitment not to reduce the OMC on Social Protection and on Social Inclusion to its contribution to the Growth and Jobs objectives, and to ensure that the Growth and Jobs strategy contributes to the social cohesion objective;
The new regulations of the Structural Funds must allow funds to support the National Strategies for Social Inclusion and Social Protection, PROGRESS programme must be sufficiently funded, and Member States should establish Stakeholder Forums and allocate financial resources to facilitate the participation in the process;
A clarification of the revised objectives proposed by the Commission to ensure continuity with the Nice objectives.
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/