Towards social cohesion: how far are we?

by Ilona Griniute

On 11th September Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament organised a seminar on Decent work, quality jobs and poverty: The missing link in Europe 2020. This seminar can be linked to the Annual Convention of the European platform against poverty and social exclusion (EPAPSE) which is one of the flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth bringing together stakeholders every year.

Six representatives from NGOs, trade unions and EU institutions had a chance to reflect on the reality of quality of employment, poverty situation across Europe and its impact on social exclusion in this one-afternoon-long seminar in Brussels. European Anti Poverty Network who has been monitoring the European employment strategy since 1997 presented the current situation, latest statistics and their concerns on how to better integrate quality of work and employment in Europe 2020. Two of the main issues related to social exclusion were (1) the access to employment by supporting pathways and inclusive labour market and (2) job creation with a focus shifting from supply to demand by investing in quality and sustainable jobs like those in ICT sector.

Luca Visentini from European Trade Union Confederation highlighted that wrong policies are being placed to tackle the prevailing economic crisis while poverty and in-work poverty has been growing in the last ten years. In his opinion, the Europe 2020 strategy which was launched in 2010 came in rather too late. With Germany introducing a statutory minimum wage and new employment laws coming into force in 2015, trade unions agree on the top priority of increasing wage levels and collective bargaining in Europe.

Detlef Eckert (Director DG Employment and Europe 2020, European Commission) and Jutta Steinruck (EMPL Committee, European Parliament) expressed their positions from EU institutions point of view. D. Eckert believes that there is a strong need to respond to structural changes in industries driven by constantly evolving digital technologies as well as the need to invest in vocational training. J. Steinruck added that it is important to continue investing in R&D to define ever-changing employment qualifications. Unfortunately, the emphasis on social investment and investment in Information and Communication was brought up by the audience in the last debate.

What has happened since the first Convention of EPAPSE in 2011? The Social Investment Package for Growth and Cohesion discussed in the second Annual Convention of the European platform against poverty and social exclusion in 2012 was adopted by the European Commission in February 2013 urging to focus on social investment in order to progress with the objectives of Europe 2020. The Social Investment Package should help Member States more effectively manage social policies to address challenges such as high unemployment rates and social exclusion. One of the three focuses of this Package includes upgrading active inclusion strategies that should strive to improve education, training and job search assistance, and to strengthen people’s skills and capabilities in general.

So the question to be asked is: Are we really taking the right actions and reforms in social policies to address unemployment, social exclusion and other challenges imposed by Europe’s economic crisis since 2009?

For more information please refer to:

Press release on Poverty Convention results http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-12-968_en.htm

Press release on Social Investment Package http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-125_en.htm