Building an inclusive Europe
Following the informal meeting of EU Social Affairs Ministers held on 11 and 12 February 2000 in Lisbon and after a wide consultation of the Member States and civil society, it would appear that combating social exclusion has become one of the major challenges faced by our economies and societies. Many Europeans are still living in poverty and have difficulties in taking part in social life. In order to foster inclusion and limit the emergence of new forms of exclusion, the Commission proposes to speed up the building of a Europe for all, based on knowledge and information.
Communication from the Commission of 1 March 2000, Building an inclusive Europe [COM(2000) 79 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
1. As a follow-up to the Luxembourg Summit (November 1997), which launched the European Employment Strategy, the Commission proposes to launch a new initiative aimed at supporting the efforts of Member States to combat social exclusion. This initiative emphasises in particular the need to consider the effects of job creation on social cohesion.
The challenge of social exclusion
2. According to Eurostat data (1994), some 18% of the EU population live with less than 60% of the national median income. Persons living under this poverty line are experiencing deprivation and serious difficulties in fully participating in society.
3. Vulnerable persons are not only those experiencing long-term poverty but also those who have to face precariousness on the labour market and low incomes. The fact of holding a job at a particular time does not necessarily protect people from the risk of social exclusion.
4. Social exclusion is a multidimensional phenomenon in which unemployment is the major factor. There are long-term unemployed, those for whom recurrent periods of inactivity are mixed with periods of low-paid work and, lastly, "discouraged" workers, who do not seek work because they see no prospect of getting a job.
5. However, social exclusion goes beyond issues of access to the labour market and is evidenced by several types of discrimination. Alone or together, these barriers prevent full participation of persons in areas such as education, health, environment, housing, culture, access to rights or family support, as well as training and job opportunities. The effect of these factors varies, of course, between individuals and from one Member State to another.
6. The structural trends that are reshaping our societies will lead to economic growth but may also increase the risk of social exclusion.
7. With the globalisation of economies and high-speed technological changes, the labour market is changing drastically and is offering new opportunities to those who are the most adaptable. Those who are unprepared to acquire the skills required for new tasks within the knowledge economy are thus being marginalised.
8. Today's knowledge is more and more transmitted through the information technologies, which are the key driving force for job creation. The lack of IT culture or access to skills may create new forms of social exclusion. The challenge of social exclusion must therefore consist in fostering active participation in order to achieve a fair distribution of opportunities and prepare citizens for change.
Policy developments in the Member States
9. Combating social exclusion is first and foremost the responsibility of Member States. However, social partners and non-governmental organisations also play a major role. During the last decade, there has been an increasing focus on the need to guarantee social integration. Ireland and Portugal, for example, have adopted national programmes:
- Ireland has introduced "Sharing in progress: the national anti-poverty strategy", the aim of which is to reduce the proportion of the Irish population which lives in long-term poverty. It is supported in particular by a strong partnership approach and specific institutional structures.
- Portugal has developed the "Programma Nacional de luta contra a pobreza" (national anti-poverty programme), complemented by the INTEGRAR programme and the establishment of a minimum income scheme in 1997.
- Other Member States, such as France, are seeking to improve the overall impact of social inclusion measures through framework legislation, which defines exclusion in terms of access to fundamental rights in the areas of employment, education, housing, health care, etc.
10. The efforts made have shown that employment contributes to solving the problem of exclusion, but provides only a partial solution. The Member States must promote the sustainable inclusion of people to a greater extent, emphasising the importance of an integrated approach.
Contribution of Community instruments and policies to social inclusion
11. The European Employment Strategy has made a major contribution to combating social exclusion by targeting long-term unemployment and youth unemployment as well as the lack of equal opportunities for women and persons with disabilities in the labour market. The 1999 Employment Guidelines emphasise the reintegration of workers The measures contained therein include reforms to tax and benefit systems and promotion of education and training, especially in fast-changing fields such as information and communication technologies.
12. The Structural Funds are the main financial means of direct support for the most disadvantaged regions and people in the EU. Current Community initiatives include the URBANII and LEADER+ programmes on urban and rural integration respectively.
13. The Knowledge Society has the potential to be a powerful force for inclusion and cohesion in Europe. The Commission's communications on the initiatives " e-Europe - The Information Society for all " and "Strategies for jobs in the Information Society" stress the fact that Europe's population, and young people in particular, must have extensive access to new basic skills and need to be able to use information technologies.
14. Other Community measures contribute to promoting social inclusion, such as the framework programmes for research or those supporting education (SOCRATES), training (LEONARDO DA VINCI), young people (YOUTH), etc.
Supporting Member States' efforts to promote inclusion and participation
15. At their informal meeting in Lisbon in February 2000, the Social Affairs Ministers decided that it was crucial to make the Member States' economic and social policies more inclusive. The European Union wishes to make a political commitment to this end. The purpose is to encourage open forms of cooperation between Member States rather than to set up a heavy coordination process.
Common objectives for social inclusion
16. In accordance with the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty, the role of the Community is to complement and support the Member States' initiatives, focussing on actions which add real value.
17. The convergent developments under way in the Member States make it possible to envisage the development of common objectives at EU level, such as:
- mainstreaming social inclusion in EU policies;
- development of common social exclusion and inclusion indicators;
- acess for all to the Knowledge Society;
- active participation for all as a result of the expected economic growth.
18. These common objectives mean that the Member States must establish general strategies at national level and develop, as appropriate, national programmes or framework legislation.
19. The Commission is developing with the Member States mechanisms for comparative assessement of performance in order to monitor the progress made in each country.
Operational tools under the new provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty
20. According to Article 137(2), last subparagraph, of the Treaty establishing the European Community (EC), a multiannual programme is envisaged to promote cooperation between the Member States and to make their policies more inclusive.
21. This programme of support for cooperation uses existing human resources and has a limited budget. Its activities are focussed around three main strands:
- fostering understanding of social exclusion and inclusion policy mechanisms;
- identifying and exchanging good practice;
- promoting policy dialogue and debate.
22. Article 137(2), first subparagraph, also provides for a framework instrument capable of promoting the integration of persons excluded from the labour market. The key principles of this instrument include the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to social exclusion, the need for partnerships and coordination measures, and the setting up of pathways to integration.
For further information, see also the website of the Commission's Directorate-General for Employment and Social Affairs.