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11 May 2010


In Florence, president Mario Sepi will call on Barroso to produce new European legislation to combat social exclusion through education and training.

The Tuscany region will help organise the event.

In Europe, social exclusion stops one person in four from exercising their fundamental rights: a quarter of Europeans are denied access to work, housing, healthcare, education, culture and sport. This is not just an outrageous injustice: it is also an unpardonable diseconomy for both the European economic system and the individual national systems. What country can do without a quarter of its population, especially at a time of economic crisis?

Education has everything it takes to tackle the issue and help integrate into society and the job market that proportion of Europeans who are currently excluded, provided that legislation which can address this key issue properly is introduced to enable the education systems in the 27 countries to play their new role.

That is why the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which brings together representatives of the economic and social groups from 27 EU countries, has decided to dedicate its biennial conference, to be held in Florence from 20 to 22 May 2010, to Education to combat social exclusion.

The conference will comprise three days of work, bringing together politicians and specialists, employers and trade unionists, sociologists and education and training experts, together with leaders in informal education and non-governmental organisations working in the field. The Florence conference is to include European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso; European Economic and Social Committee president, Mario Sepi; the Italian, Greek and Belgian Education Ministers, Mariastella Gelmini, Anna Diamantopoulou and Marie-Dominique Simonet; the Spanish Minister for responsible for equal opportunities, Bibiana Aido Almagro; representatives of CGIL and CISL; European Parliament vice-presidents, Gianni Pittella and Isabelle Durant; Antonella Manfipresident of Cofindustria Toscana, as well as the president of the European University Institute in Florence, Josep Borrell; director of the European Anti-Poverty Network, Fintan Farrell; chairman of the Italian commission on social exclusion, Marco Revelli; Libera representative, Tonio Dell'Olio; director of the Second Chance School in Marseille, Lionel Urdy; director of Gens du voyage, Stéphane Lévèque; president of the European Network of Social Integration Entreprises, Charlotte Gruber; spokesperson of the Forum del Terzo Settore, Andrea Olivero; director of CEDEFOP, Aviana Bulgarelli; president of FONDACA, Giovanni Moro; ATD Fourth World delegate to European Union, Marie-Cécile Renoux; president of the European think-tank Pour la Solidarité, Denis Stokkink; president of the Italian National Council on Disability, Luisa Bosisio Fazzi; and the French former High Commissioner for Active Solidarity against Poverty, Martin Hirsch.

Poverty takes many forms in the globalised world. It is a condition of severe deprivation where primary needs, including food, drinking water, healthcare and asylum, are not met throughout a large part of the world. It can also take the form, however, of inability to achieve an acceptable standard of living in the society in which we live.

This is the case in Europe, where insufficient income is only one side of the coin – 17% of European citizens lack the financial resources they need. Growing unemployment, insecure working conditions, unacceptable housing conditions, inadequate healthcare, inaccessible education, culture, sport and other leisure pursuits are the other facets of rampant marginalisation: one European in four is excluded from a whole series of activities which for other people are the norm.

With the exception of a number of extreme cases, such as the dramatic situation of the Roma community, the form of poverty which is most widespread in Europe is thus a sort of relative poverty, caused not just by lack of money but also by gender, racial, ethnic, religious or faith inequalities or inequalities based on disability, age, sexual orientation or work (permanent or insecure employment).

Suffering from social exclusion in Europe means not just suffering because of low income, but also not having access to education or information, cultural integration or social participation: in other words, being unable to share the prevailing standard of living or facilitate relations with the job market. New forms of poverty have developed alongside the conventional forms, with immeasurable hardship striking those in insecure working conditions. All the most recent surveys show that European citizens are extremely aware of forms of poverty (from extreme poverty (10%) to social exclusion (29%) and the risk of poverty (31%). And, first and foremost, they blame social injustice (37%)).

Today, in Europe, good laws are not enough to secure equal opportunities for all. Inequalities are glaringly obvious in daily life: at school, at work, in healthcare, in access to goods and services of general interest. None of these obstacles are being removed – rather, they are becoming more established. That is why the European Union has decided to dedicate 2010 to combating poverty and social exclusion.

According to Mario Sepi, EESC president, "education has a key role to play in this battle". "Acquiring as many skills as possible through education and training helps to fight poverty and exclusion and create new possibilities for inclusion and employment. There are not just clear social grounds for taking the approach of inclusive education (in that it helps to change mentalities and build societies free of prejudice and discrimination)", adds Sepi, "but there are also tangible economic benefits, as it helps to make the system more competitive in relation to the new economic challenges and labour market demands." Eradicating the outrage of poverty and promoting greater social inclusion "does not just mean an indisputable obligation to recognise the rights of all, but also strengthening social cohesion, to the benefit of society as a whole".

Thus, the biennial conference will not confine itself to stressing the importance of social exclusion in the EU, but will take an initial political step towards new European legislation on inclusion, based on the key instrument of education and, therefore, on revising the education and training policies of the EU and the Member States. Mr Sepi hopes that the biennial conference will close with a call to the European Commission to publish a Green Paper. This will be the first, essential step towards revising European legislation in this field.

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