Throughout the year 2013, several stakeholders and official bodies of the European Union have published reports and made declarations regarding the need to increase the focus on the social dimension of the EU: these are briefly analysed in this article.
In September 2013, the European Anti-Poverty Network published an assessment of the National Reform Programmes 2013, calling on the Commission to strengthen the social dimension of Europe. The report called for – among other things – the development of a Social Pact and Social Governance in the European Semester. The work also noted a lack of alignment between the February 2013 Social Investment Package and recommendations in the National Reform Programmes and in the Annual Growth Survey, owing partly to timing. Shortly after the publication of this report, Eurodiaconia wrote to President Barroso and the Commissioners, calling on the EC to focus the 2014 Annual Growth Survey on inclusion, poverty reduction and social cohesion rather than on a purely economic approach. It recommended that the Europe 2020 strategy remains the main objective of the European Semester, and also recommended that the social scoreboard proposed by the EC Communication on the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union serves as a trigger for Member States to develop corrective plans.
In October, the Social Protection Committee authored a report on social policy reforms for growth and cohesion, which reviewed the structural reforms undertaken between January 2012 and June 2013 so as to bolster opportunities for mutual learning among states. The report was divided into various parts, consisting in case studies of the impact of social protection reforms in specific countries, and in an overview of recent reforms in pensions, healthcare and social inclusion in Europe. While recognising the impact of the crisis, the report recommended shifting the priorities of the EU in social protection beyond the social consequences of the crisis to building resilient, flexible and effective social protection systems resting on adequate benefits, sustainable finance and the right type of investments.
At the same time, President Barroso further developed on the plans for a ‘social scoreboard’ for Europe. Specifically, President Barroso recognised that the scrutiny of national deficits by the European Commission needed to be matched by progress from a social policy standpoint. The proposed plans, explained in October 2013, consist in adding new social indicators to the aspects already monitored by the Commission, including data on overall unemployment levels, youth unemployment rates, data on the percentage of the working population at risk of poverty, and income inequality.