Today Europe is boredom… it is submerged by numbers and without soul. As long as Europe cares more about fishing rights than human beings swimming in our sea’s Europe has no soul (Renzi 2014).
The same Prime Minister of Italy states rightly “Europe is the answer, not the problem”. So what has to be done to make sure that the social integrity of Europe will be further developed and strengthened? Based on the findings of the current mid-term review of the EU 2020 strategy some strategic guidelines are needed to frame and refocus the policy agenda.
There is increasing divergence in the performance of Member States and increasing social inequalities. And the social consequences are clearly visible.
Inequalities are underplayed greatly in the original strategy. Poverty is of course quite prominent but this is a more specific and limited issue. Inequality in the mid-term review document is mentioned as “increased difficulty of addressing the challenges facing the European Economy” – thus purely a pragmatic political concern. One issue of inequality is that it can adventure social cohesion but more importantly it threatens the existence of the market economy – see Marx, Keynes and now Pickety etc..
In order to tackle this issue the EU has to embrace the understanding that inequalities are bad for capitalism. It could for instance introduce an inequality goal as part of the European Semester (ES) part. The EU is a vital player in the potential redressing of inequalities. Wealth and inheritance taxes can only be dealt with in the global context as is the case for tax havens. This is also very close to home – how can we permit Lichtenstein and Luxembourg?
In this context the social dialogue is essential in maintaining some balance in the distribution of income and wealth. Agreements about wages and working conditions based on social dialogue – the dialogue between organised labour and organised employers – are likely to have a better outcome for distribution than atomistic capitalism.
The focus of the debate around risks of poverty and social exclusion has almost exclusively been upon the income dimension. For many “at risk groups” but particularly young people, isolated older people and the long-term unemployed, public policies must become more concerned with promoting involvement in civil society and social engagement. In some ways this amounts to refocusing and renewal of the principles behind the Social Investment Package (SIP/2013) and the Beyond GDP Initiative.
Social progress demands greater attention to support for families with children, especially through investment in affordable and high quality childcare. Early investment in the well-being of children is crucial for their development and transition into adulthood. A suite of family policies building on universally available support to families with children is the foundation of the most successful systems.
The welfare and future productivity of children is the most important strategic long-term issue for Europe. It is the only sustainable means of dealing with the enormous competitive challenges facing Europe and which will guarantee real social inclusion via social investment.
Europe is not on track to reach the employment goals of EU 2020 either. Achieving the goal of EU 2020 demands greater involvement of women, people with disabilities, migrants and older people in the EU workforce. Much remains to be done to enable and promote working by those aged 60 and over.
Poor health is a major barrier to participation in the workforce but has attracted less attention than it deserves. It is a difficult area involving healthcare professionals, employers, and public employment services but there are examples of promising practice and successful initiatives. There also appears to be a need for clearer discussion of both the mechanisms and merits of service provision in public, non-for-profit or private sectors. This requires a more coherent policy on (social) services of general interest.
Youth unemployment is tackled by the Youth Employment Package (2012) which included the Youth Guarantee, the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, the Quality Framework for Traineeships, and measures to reduce obstacles to mobility among young people. The aim is that all young people under 25 get a good-quality offer of a job, an apprenticeship, a traineeship or the chance to continue their education within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. There is an urgency to efficiently roll out the youth guarantee programmes, and that a personalised approach and preventive measures are an essential part of them. In at least eight Member States, where youth unemployment is particularly high and where there are serious implementation problems, more decisive action is needed. If the monitoring by the ES sending country specific recommendations (CSR’s) to the eight countries will help to improve delivery is at least questionable.
A recent paper shows that CSR’s issued in the context of the ES are often not very specific and frequently not implemented. Small countries appear to overreact but only in terms of process not outcome. Process over outcome is maybe the main criticism – and it is the most annoying aspect of EU.
To give Europe its soul back “something different” seems to be needed.
This column is part of our Social Europe 2019 project.
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