Commission discusses ways to strengthen EU social policy
The Commission recently held an orientation debate to discuss how EU policy can best address social and employment challenges in Europe. President Juncker's political guidelines already underline the need for social fairness and aim to reinforce principles of a European Social Market Economy. The outcome of the recent debate will feed into the Commission's work programme for the rest of the mandate.
Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue, said: "While growth is picking up in the EU, there is still a very high number of people out of work and suffering hardship. This is more pronounced in those countries most affected by the crisis. Our response requires a combination of policies that strengthen the economy, while improving social conditions. We are reviewing the way economic policy is coordinated across the EU to better take into account social concerns, while fully involving social partners in shaping reforms. We also encourage Member States to make the best use of EU financing for social needs, such as the European Social Fund and the Youth Employment Initiative."
Marianne Thyssen, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, said: "Although our economy is on the mend, many European citizens do not yet feel the effects of the economic recovery. Creating jobs, restoring fairness, providing protection and reducing inequalities therefore remain our priorities - for a successful economic recovery that benefits all people in Europe. Our aim is to achieve upward social convergence and to bring concrete results to the European citizens."
The recent debate took stock of the economic and social situation and touched upon the role of a number of policy tools in the hands of the EU:
- Better coordination of policies: EU economic governance has been strengthened since the crisis and improvements are still being made, including by taking better account of employment and social objectives. This new approach is reflected in this year's Country-Specific Recommendations. As announced in the Political Guidelines, greater convergence between Member States that share a common currency should also be part of the reform of our Economic and Monetary Union.
- Strengthening the involvement of social partners at EU and national levels will be important to help shape reforms that can strengthen the recovery. The Commission has re-launched social dialogueat EU level and supports the active participation of social partners in the European Semester at national level. It is also committed to involving social partners in a broader range of policies, such as those related to deepening the Economic and Monetary Union, creating an Energy Union, trade policy, implementing our Digital Agenda, encouraging entrepreneurship, and better matching skills with the needs of the labour market.
- Modernising EU employment and social legislation: Our stock of legislation needs regular updating in line with evolving economic and societal challenges, and the Commission's better regulation agenda. Much of the EU employment and social legislation dates back to the creation of the single market and recent enlargements. In the meantime we have seen tremendous technological change, a more diversified workforce and new business models. Citizens expect protection throughout the lifecycle to live through these changes.
- EU financing instruments: Substantial financing is available to promote social cohesion, notably through European Structural and Investment instruments (ESIF), such as the European Social Fund, which can directly tackle unemployment and poverty, improve peoples' skills and support job creation, particularly for young people through the Youth Employment Initiative.
Actions taken and upcoming proposals
A lot has been done under this Commission already, from the launch of the Investment Plan for Europe to steer jobs and growth to the re-launch of the Youth Employment Initiative. Several new initiatives are under preparation, as foreseen in the Commission Work Programme 2015, such as a recommendation on the integration of long-term unemployed, to be presented around the summer, and a labour mobility package, foreseen for the end of 2015. The orientation debate will help set the scene for these initiatives and shape subsequent steps.
For the first time since before the crisis, the economies of all Member States are expected to grow again. While Europe is moving out of the crisis and job creation picked up recently, it will take time for the improvements to be fully felt in the labour market and in society, and to recover the jobs that had been lost since the crisis. The key challenge is to tackle unemployment, which remains very high among young and the long-term unemployed: 23.5 million people are unemployed in the EU, of whom 4.7 million are young people aged 15-24.
The crisis has brought the EU further away from its Europe 2020 employment and poverty targets. Poverty rates increased with more than 6 million since 2008, reaching some 123 million in 2013. Today, about one in four of the EU population (24.5%) is at risk of poverty or exclusion. The employment rate (age 20-64) has decreased from 70.3 % in 2008 to 69.2 % in 2014, compared to the EU target of 75% in 2020.
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