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Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion
This report sets out the main challenges to be overcome in order to achieve the objectives set by the Lisbon strategy by 2010, in the areas of social protection, pension schemes and the fight against exclusion. The Member States are pulling together in these areas, using the open method of coordination (OMC) to coordinate their national policies. By means of their joint action they are contributing to economic growth, European social cohesion and the eradication of poverty.
Communication from the Commission of 27 January 2005 - Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion [COM(2005) 14 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The Member States of the enlarged European Union (EU) are undergoing major demographic, economic and societal changes. The Lisbon strategy promotes a model of sustainable development in which economic policy, employment policy and social policy are interdependent. To this end, Community coordination mechanisms for social protection and inclusion are to be streamlined as of 2006.
Social protection and social inclusion
A high level of social protection should guarantee social cohesion and create a favourable environment for growth and employment. In order to carry out this role, social protection systems must be evolutionary, and most Member States have undertaken the modernisation process taking into account the reduction in the workforce and the possibility of some of the population being put at risk.
The modernisation of social protection systems must be supported by an increase in lifelong employment. This means that social inclusion policies should play a part in the general effort to increase labour supply. Maintaining the sums allocated by the Structural Funds, and in particular by the European Social Fund (ESF), will make an essential contribution to this objective and to the fight against poverty.
The risk of poverty remains very high in Europe, with 15% of the EU population at risk in 2002. It is feared that the recent economic slowdown may result in rising numbers of people at risk of poverty. In the new Member States it is however the restructuring process underpinning economic growth which may increase the risk of poverty.
Those groups of the population affected by poverty are often on the margins of the labour market and suffering from social exclusion. Public action must therefore be taken, linking the areas of social inclusion, employment and the fight against poverty.
Seven key priorities are reflected in the policies being adopted by the Member States. At EU level it is necessary to:
- increase labour market participation by expanding active policies and ensuring a better linkage between social protection, education and lifelong learning;
- modernise social protection systems to ensure they are sustainable, adequate and accessible to all;
- tackle disadvantages in education and training by investing more in human capital at all ages and focusing particularly on the most disadvantaged groups;
- eliminate child poverty by guaranteeing their education, increasing the assistance given to their families and ensuring that their rights are protected;
- ensure decent accommodation for vulnerable groups and develop integrated approaches to tackling homelessness;
- improve access to quality services in the fields of health, social services, transport and the new information and communication technologies;
- eliminate sex discrimination and increase the social integration of people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and immigrants.
These priorities are implemented by means of national strategies adapted to suit each situation. The development of National Action Plans Against Poverty and Social Exclusion (NAPS) clearly shows Member States' intention to strengthen the social inclusion process. These strategies are based on a broad partnership involving the national, regional and local authorities, the social partners and all stakeholders.
The open method of coordination (OMC) supported by the Community action programme to combat social exclusion provides a suitable basis for further action at national and Community levels to promote social inclusion.
The following have been identified as ways of increasing the effectiveness of strategies at national level:
- establishing stronger links with economic and employment policy, most notably by means of greater transparency regarding budgetary resources and the use of the Structural Funds;
- strengthening strategy implementation capacity by developing partnerships, increasing administrative and institutional capacity and ensuring coordination across different levels of government;
- focusing on key issues and setting more ambitious targets which are better quantified and adapted to suit each situation;
- strengthening monitoring and evaluation of policies.
In order to make further progress at EU level, the Council and Commission should:
- strengthen the mainstreaming of social inclusion objectives across all EU policies, from design to implementation. To this end the OMC should be extended to include health care and long-term care;
- make greater use of the OMC's potential to contribute to effective results in each Member State, by evaluating existing methods and using common indicators;
- ensure that Structural Funds continue to play a key role in promoting social inclusion;
- further develop common indicators and enhance data sources, taking account in particular of the multi-dimensional nature of social exclusion and poverty.
Pensions and active ageing
Pensions need to be modernised in order to meet the challenge posed by the ageing of the European population and in order to ensure they are financially sustainable and adapted to changes in society.
Reforms are thus primarily based on raising the effective retirement age, which involves strengthening the role of social security systems by means of measures to promote active ageing and prevent poverty.
Most Member States have already undertaken reforms in order to curb growth in public expenditure. However, guaranteeing adequate incomes generally requires additional public expenditure. Reforms often allow an increase in the savings directed towards private pension schemes and thus open up more opportunities for pensioners to generate income.
The Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion draws on two rounds of the OMC (in 2001-2003 and in 2003-2005), which has achieved good results in the field of social inclusion. This method has been successfully extended to include the new Member States.
The report submitted follows the 2004 Joint Report on Social Inclusion. It paves the way for an evaluation process that will lead to a new round of the OMC beginning in 2006. Preparations for this new cycle will include a consultation of the Member States, the social partners and all stakeholders.