The European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) welcomes the initiative taken by the Collective SSIG FR in organizing the seminar held yesterday in Brussels (5th June) to discuss ways of moving forward in the debate on Social and Health Services of General Interest. This conference was a welcome next step, following on from the Commission’s Seminar on the 4th June which presented the findings of the consultation on Social and Health Services of General Interest and the related Study.
The seminar “Social and Health Services of General Interest, Towards an EU strategy?” highlighted the wealth of common ground that exists between the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and underlined the commitment of the three future Presidencies to make substantial progress on providing an adequate EU framework for Social Services of General Interest. This included the announcement of the Portuguese Presidency to hold a broad Forum on the 7th September, involving all key stakeholders. The seminar was closed by the Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, who emphasized the “need to promote positive synergies between the economic and social strands of Lisbon, with the recognition that the Internal Market and Competition rules must be made compatible with defending the public interest, in these important services of general interest”.
Fintan Farrell, Director of EAPN said “We welcome Commissioner Spidla’s, (and the European Parliament, EESC and Committee of the Region’s) obvious commitment to restoring the balance between the economic and social pillars to Lisbon, but are very worried about whether there will still be sufficient political will to drive this vital element of the social agenda forward. We hope the Commission will take advantage of this surge of support and the commitments made by the Spring Council and propose a horizontal framework on social services of general interest which will end the legal uncertainty, once and for all”.
The seminar highlighted the strong convergence of views particularly on the role of social and health services in securing the EU’s social and territorial cohesion through the provision of universal services.
Ludo Horemans, President of EAPN, underlined “Quality social and health services are the first building block of the European Social Model. Without them, people experiencing poverty have no way of accessing their rights: to decent housing, affordable education and health services as well as a range of support services that are essential to challenge discrimination, poverty, and social exclusion. But this does not mean that these services of general interest should only be provided for the poor. The right to universal quality, affordable social and health services for all, as seen in the Nordic model, is vital for an EU based on fundamental rights, capable of achieving its objective of social cohesion.”
EAPN highlights that the current situation, with an increasing lack of legal certainty around social services provision and particularly the interplay with internal market and competition rules, is having an adverse affect on the lives of people who have most need of these services.
Fintan Farrell points out: “We are pleased to see that most Member States recognize that these services cannot be left to the mercy of market forces, but there is still great reluctance to move forward to consider an EU framework because of worries about subsidiarity in the areas of social policy. It is clear that Member states must have the right to decide which social services are necessary and to choose and regulate the providers, ensuring quality standards. But, we’ve got to face up to the fact that we’re not talking about an equal playing field. EU internal market and competition now clearly interfere with the countries decision of how best to deliver these services and this can have a very negative effect on the quality of these services which are so vital for the poor. This means that some EU action is vital to ensure an adequate balance between social rights and market freedoms, to clarify member states role and responsibilities and the limits of internal market and competition rules and to ensure that the voice of users, particularly the poor and socially excluded is heard”.
For more information on the seminar see http://www.ssig-fr.org/.