Just before the European Council discusses the report of the High Level Group chaired by Wim Kok, the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) has prepared a response to this report, expressing its concerns about the fact the Kok report fails to grapple with the complexity of the Lisbon Agenda, and ignores the commitment made in Lisbon in March 2000 in relation to the eradication of poverty and social exclusion.
“The report of the High Level Group chaired by Wim Kok in many ways contradicts the ‘Lisbon Agenda’ that was agreed by Heads of State and Governments in 2000 and ignores the commitment that was made in relation to the eradication of poverty and the combat of social exclusion”, states Fintan Farrell, Director of EAPN, in the Network’s response to the Kok report.
Five areas are identified for urgent action, i.e. the knowledge society, the internal market, the business climate, the labour market and the environmental sustainability, but – according to EAPN – the report completely fails to identify the need for the promotion of social cohesion and social inclusion. “This failure to grapple with the complexity of the whole of the Lisbon agenda seriously limits the value of the recommendations contained in the report”, adds Fintan Farrell.
An ’outdated’ model of development
According to EAPN, the report relies on an “inadequate and outdated” model of development which works with the assumption that economic growth is automatically good for everyone: “The report fails to address the reality that the model of economic growth adopted can either increase or decrease social cohesion and inclusion. The report speaks of the importance of evidence based policies and yet for its central assumption there is no evidence that economic growth will automatically lead to cohesion, rather the evidence supports the assumption that investment in high levels of social protection is conducive to high levels of sustainable growth and quality jobs”.
EAPN also notes that the report fails to take account of the work that has been under taken by the EU Commission on the costs of ‘Non Social Policy’ and fails to understand that strong social policies are a necessary investment for both economic and social growth.
The report develops inadequate responses
The report recognises the need for the workforce to be more flexible and adaptable but “once again”, underlines EAPN, ‘”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 Kok report repeats that jobs are an important part of addressing poverty and social exclusion but, according to the European Anti-Poverty Network, its analysis is inadequate in terms of ensuring not only more jobs but also better jobs as was identified in Lisbon: “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 report of high level group fails to address this reality”.
More rigorous reporting
The report stresses the need for a more rigorous reporting on the implementation of the ‘Lisbon Agenda’ and recommends the presentation of an annual league table to the Spring European Council on progress by Member States. This is an approach that EAPN could support provided that it is applied to all the areas of the Lisbon agenda and not just to the areas of growth and competitivity: “If such attention is only given to these aspects of the Lisbon agenda, as suggested in the report of the High Level Group, then the Lisbon Agenda will no longer be a tool for the development of a European Social Model but instead will be more likely to contribute to the undermining of the European Social Model”, warns EAPN.
The Commission must conduct the evaluation
According to EAPN, it should be the role of the Commission to set the agenda of the review of the Lisbon Agenda, rather than the High Level Group. In conducting this evaluation, the Commission should take account of, and respond to, the broad range of contributions coming from all of the actors who have been mobilised and active in contributing to the implementation of the Lisbon agenda. The EAPN response reads: “In overseeing this process, the Heads of State and Government should ensure a continued commitment to the balanced agenda identified in Lisbon and reinforced by the commitments made in Gothenburg”. Finally, Fintan Farrell insists: “Important advances have been made with the introduction of the Open Method of Coordination in the areas of social inclusion and social protection, and this must not be ignored".