A new framework for the open coordination of social protection and inclusion policies
The aim of this communication is to put in place an enhanced open method of coordination (OMC) for policies geared to providing social protection and combating poverty. This strengthened OMC will be more visible and will focus more on policy implementation, tying in more closely with the revised Lisbon Strategy. It will simplify the reporting process and will increase the opportunities for exchanging ideas between the Member States on the policy to be conducted.
Communication from the Commission of 22 December 2005 "A new framework for the open coordination of social protection and inclusion policies" [COM(2005) 706 - Not published in the Official Journal].
EVALUATION OF WORK DONE UNDER THE OMC
Before making its proposals, the Commission asked the Member States, the social partners, NGOs and social protection institutions to complete a questionnaire on the OMC and its working methods.
The parties concerned believe that the OMC is worthwhile and that it has a positive impact on policy making. They are in favour of a more streamlined process in tandem with simplified reporting.
- bring together the three strands of work, while allowing the specific features which are important to each of them to develop further. New integrated common objectives should not reduce the scope for in-depth focus on each area of operation;
- support more learning and integrate it more effectively with the work of reporting and evaluation;
- foster good interaction with the revised Lisbon Strategy and the re-launched Sustainable Development Strategy;
- promote the practice of involving stakeholders who have made the most headway in the relevant field.
NEW COMMON OBJECTIVES FOR THE STRENGTHENED OMC
These new objectives are based on the existing objectives set out in Nice as regards inclusion and in Laeken as regards pensions.
- Promote social cohesion and equal opportunities for all through adequate, accessible, financially sustainable, adaptable and efficient social protection systems and social inclusion policies;
- Interact closely with the Lisbon objectives for achieving greater economic growth and more and better jobs, as well as with the Union's Sustainable Development Strategy;
- Improve governance, transparency and the involvement of stakeholders in the design, implementation and monitoring of policy.
Objectives applying to the different fields of operation
- Making a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty and social exclusion
- Ensure the active inclusion of all by promoting participation in the labour market and by fighting poverty and exclusion among the most marginalised groups;
- Combat all forms of discrimination which lead to exclusion;
- Incorporate the fight against poverty and social exclusion into all relevant public policies, including economic and budgetary policies, and the Structural Fund programmes (especially the ESF).
- Providing adequate and sustainable pensions
- Guarantee an adequate retirement income for all and access to pensions which allow people to maintain, to a reasonable degree, their living standard after retirement;
- Ensure the financial sustainability of public and private pension schemes, particularly by supporting a longer working life and active ageing, guaranteeing an appropriate and fair balance between contributions and benefits, and maintaining the security of funded and private schemes;
- Ensure that pension schemes are transparent and that people receive the information they need to prepare for retirement.
- Ensuring accessible, high-quality and sustainable health care and long-term care
- Guarantee access for all to adequate health and long-term care, and ensure that the need for care does not lead to poverty and financial dependency;
- Promote quality of care and rational use of resources.
PROCEDURES AND WORKING ARRANGEMENTS FOR A STRENGTHENED OMC
Evaluation and reporting
The new common objectives will provide a basis for drawing up national social protection and inclusion strategies, entailing:
- a common section assessing the social situation and presenting the overall strategic approach for modernising social protection and social inclusion policies;
- three thematic plans covering social inclusion, pensions and health care. These plans should be forward-looking, with prioritised national objectives translating the common objectives into national plans.
The Commission will draw up a joint report (for adoption by itself and by the Council) on social protection and social inclusion, which will take stock of the progress made by the Member States and review the main trends.
Timetable for reporting and evaluation
The national strategies would normally cover a forward-looking period of three years. As regards the new Lisbon timetable, the first reports ought to be submitted in September 2006. The Member States will not be required to present national strategies in the intermediate ("light") years. They may, if they wish, report on any new initiatives or on progress with their actions.
Supporting more mutual learning
Exchanges of practice and mutual learning should be given more prominence and be better integrated with reporting and evaluation. The planned PROGRESS budget line will provide assistance for conducting such exchanges across the whole OMC spectrum.
Stakeholder involvement and governance
The strengthened OMC should redouble the focus on promoting good governance, transparency and stakeholder involvement:
- For inclusion: promoting participation in decision-making, ensuring policy coordination between branches and levels of government;
- For pensions: making pension systems understandable and giving people the information they need to prepare for retirement;
- For health: establishing good coordination between the different elements of the system and giving good information to citizens.
Improving the visibility of the OMC would contribute positively to the policy debates in the Member States. The planned lighter rhythm of reporting and evaluation may provide an opportunity to place greater emphasis on publicising the OMC through national seminars open to all.
In so far as social protection and social inclusion policies are not incorporated into Community law, the mechanism introduced by the Lisbon European Council in March 2000 within the Union is called the open method of coordination (OMC). It allows the definition of common objectives and the comparison of good practices between Member States in three areas: social inclusion (since 2000), pension and retirement systems (since 2001) and the future of the health and long-term care sector (since 2004). Specifically, the OMC involves the setting of common general objectives, the drawing-up of national action plans and reports outlining the policies the Member States intend to conduct for achieving the common objectives, and the assessment of these plans and strategies in other joint reports by the Commission and the Council.
With a view to achieving more effective social policy coordination and better alignment with the Lisbon Strategy (particularly with the broad economic policy guidelines and the European employment strategy), a decision was taken in 2003 to streamline the OMC (see Commission Communication of May 2003 on the streamlining of coordination in the field of social protection).
Continuing with the streamlining effort, the present Communication proposes a new set of common objectives for the three strands of the OMC along with the application of new procedures from 2006 onwards. The strengthened OMC should operate in parallel and in close interaction with the revised Lisbon Strategy, contributing to the growth and employment objectives at the same time as the Lisbon-related programmes contribute to the social cohesion objectives.