European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion: A European framework for social and territorial cohesion
EPAPSE is one of the seven flagship initiatives launched as part of the Europe 2020 strategy.
The Commission Communication
The Commission notes that the European Council's headline target on poverty and social exclusion is based on three indicators:
- the at-risk-of poverty rate (set at 60% of the national median of disposable income, after social transfers);
- the index of material deprivation which includes nine common elements of household expenditure — an inability to pay for at least four constitutes material deprivation; and
- the percentage of people living in households with very low work intensity.
The Commission estimates that, in 2008, there were more than 80 million people across the EU living below the poverty line. A quarter of these were children and well over half were women. Other particularly vulnerable groups include the elderly and people with disabilities. It says that the economic crisis has made things worse, with higher levels of indebtedness and insolvency and rising unemployment, particularly amongst young people, low-skilled workers and migrants. According to the Commission, 8% of Europeans experience severe material deprivation (rising to 30% in the poorest EU Member States) and over 9% of the working age population across the EU live in households where nobody works. Job insecurity, low pay and involuntary reductions in working hours have also increased the risk of poverty for those in work, particularly for single parent or single wage families.
The purpose of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion proposed in the Communication is to establish a framework for action within which EU institutions and Member States express their joint commitment to tackling poverty and exclusion across a range of policy areas. The Commission recognises that policies and actions to promote inclusion and reduce poverty are principally a Member State competence and will depend crucially on job creation as well as modern and effective social protection systems. However, the Commission suggests that achieving the EU headline target will require "a pooling of all efforts and instruments at EU and at national level" as well as developing innovative approaches and greater efficiencies at a time of reduced public expenditure.
The Communication identifies five principal areas for action, which are considered in further detail in the following paragraphs:
- ensuring that the focus on poverty reduction and social inclusion is mainstreamed in all aspects of policy development;
- making better use of EU Funds to support social inclusion;
- promoting evidence-based social innovation;
- working in partnership to harness the potential of the social economy; and
- enhancing policy coordination among Member States.
The Commission says that the actions proposed "rely on a mix of policy coordination, dialogue with institutional and non-institutional actors, funding and strategic partnerships." An accompanying Commission Staff Working Paper sets out a more comprehensive list of proposed initiatives.
The Commission emphasises the synergy between the EU headline targets on poverty reduction and on education and employment and the important contribution that another flagship initiative — An Agenda for New Skills and Jobs — can make to the creation of high quality and sustainable jobs. Education and training, access to health, social care and other essential services, pensions, the integration of non-EU migrants and measures to combat discrimination are all highlighted as policy areas which can make a real difference in promoting social inclusion and reducing poverty. The Commission also says that more should be done to reduce the risk of energy poverty, to improve access to financial services for the most vulnerable and to bridge the digital divide by making the internet accessible to more people. It suggests that all major initiatives and legislative proposals should be accompanied by an impact assessment that specifically addresses their social impact.
The Commission proposes actions across a range of policy areas. On the first, access to the labour market, the Commission says that it will present a Communication in 2012 assessing Member States' implementation of active inclusion policies to help those out of work into employment (including the impact of minimum income schemes and the use of EU support programmes).
Commission proposals in the field of social protection and access to essential services include:
- a White Paper on Pensions in 2011, looking at the adequacy and sustainability of pensions;
- a European Innovation Partnership on active and healthy ageing in 2011, and initiatives to support the European Year for Active Ageing in 2012;
- a Voluntary European Quality Framework for social services, looking specifically at long-term care and homelessness;
- an assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of health expenditure, with a view to reducing health inequalities;
- a law in 2011 to ensure access to basic banking services; and
- a request to the banking sector to submit a self-regulatory initiative on bank charges to encourage transparency and comparability.
Proposed actions in the field of education and youth policies include:
- a Communication in 2011 and a proposal for a Council Recommendation on policies to combat early school leaving;
- the launch in 2012 of an initiative to encourage more effective intervention at all stages of education to tackle disadvantage; and
- a Recommendation in 2012 on child poverty.
The Commission says that it will present a New European Agenda on Integration in 2012 to support Member States' efforts to promote the integration of third country nationals. Further proposals to promote social inclusion and combat discrimination include:
- presentation in 2011 of an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies;
- implementation of the EU Strategy on Gender Equality 2010-15 to promote the economic independence of women;
- implementation of the EU Disability Strategy 2010-20; and
- continuing work on homelessness and housing exclusion.
The Commission highlights the importance of the [[European Social Fund] in providing co-funding for projects promoting employment and social inclusion and says that it will be an important tool in helping to achieve the objectives of the EU's 2020 Strategy. The Commission also highlights support available from the European Regional Development Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development as well as a new Microfinance Facility which aims to provide up to €500 million in the form of microloans. The Commission proposes the following actions:
- ensuring that the European Social Fund is used to support Member States' efforts to achieve the Europe 2020 objectives, including the poverty reduction target;
- simplifying access to the Fund, especially for NGOs and local partnerships; and
- putting forward proposals in 2011 for a new regulatory framework for EU Structural and Cohesion Funds from 2013 onwards which will seek to simplify access to the Funds and ensure greater synergy between them.
The Commission advocates "social experimentation", which uses small scale projects to test policy innovations before launching them on a wider scale, and suggests that it would provide a useful tool to evaluate the types of structural reforms likely to be needed to achieve the Europe 2020 objectives. The Commission says that it will publish a Communication to raise awareness about work in the field of social innovation. It also intends to propose an initiative in 2011 to pool a number of funds to develop:
- a European research excellence network to help design and evaluate social innovation programmes;
- a European research project to identify a methodology for assessing the impact of social innovation programmes; and
- common principles on the design, evaluation and implementation of small-scale projects to test policy innovations or reforms.
The Commission says it will promote the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders and develop voluntary guidelines on their role in policy formulation and implementation. The Commission highlights the importance of volunteering as a means to develop the social economy as well as the potential contribution of businesses through corporate social responsibility programmes. It promises a new policy initiative on corporate social responsibility in 2011 which will focus on reporting and disclosure, human rights and the employment and enterprise aspects of the EU 2020 Strategy. The Commission also intends to propose a Social Business Initiative in 2011, which will include provision for social ratings and ethical and environmental labelling, and to consider ways to make it easier for mutual societies and co-operatives to operate across national borders.
Enhancing policy coordination among Member States
The Commission says that it will consider how best to integrate the open method of coordination — which is based on a system of peer review to monitor progress towards achieving jointly agreed targets and objectives — into the Europe 2020 process. It will also "assist and advise" Member States in setting national poverty reduction and social inclusion targets and will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of national policies on social protection and inclusion mid-way through the Europe 2020 Strategy.
Finally, the Commission proposes strengthening dialogue with other EU institutions, stakeholders and civil society and holding an Annual Convention of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion to take stock of progress made in meeting the European Council's headline target on poverty reduction. The Commission will also review implementation of the Platform in 2014 to see if any adaptations are required in light of the outcome of negotiations on the EU budget for 2014 onwards.
Source: Documents considered by the UK House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee on 26 Jan 11 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmeuleg/428-xiv/42812.htm