The Committee of the Regions (CoR) has called for an ambitious social investment strategy supported by adequate European funding to fight poverty and social exclusion in the European Union. At a conference entitled "Fighting poverty and social exclusion: What role for regions and cities?" organised today by the CoR, more than 250 participants including policy makers from all levels of government, debated local policy approaches and good practices in fighting poverty and social exclusion.
In a bid to deliver the EU's strategy to tackle poverty and social exclusion, the CoR President Ramón Luis Valcárcel expressed support for an ambitious social investment strategy - as initiated by the European Commission in its Social Investment Package – based on appropriate EU funding: "If the EU's efforts to reducing poverty are to be effective then the percentage of future cohesion policy funding devoted to investing in people and in the fight against poverty and social exclusion must be credible. By the same token, the sharing of policy measures developed at the local level must be stepped up."
CoR First Vice-President Mercedes Bresso called for a more proactive social policy that could lead in the mid-term to a genuine European welfare state: "People turn away from a Union which is not capable of giving a chance to everyone, independently from where she or he lives. And they turn away from a political class which does not care about their immediate problems. Solidarity, a social dimension and political perspective for the EU are needed more than ever."
The regional dimension of poverty and social exclusion was also emphasised: Europe's regional and local authorities are responsible for around one fifth of government expenditure for social protection and services and therefore play an important role in combating poverty. In this regard the CoR stressed the need for to acknowledge regional and local responsibility in providing social services, as well as the development of a regionalised 2020 headline target in the field of poverty and social inclusion.
Also speaking at the conference, Pervenche Berès, Chair of the Committee of Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament stressed that "The fight against poverty and social exclusion is part of the DNA of the EU. It is still a hot political issue with political divides. We also need to work hand in hand with the regions and local authorities to fulfil the social objectives of the EU 2020 Strategy." Ms Berès insisted on the main political priorities in this regard which include the adoption of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, as well as the need to address the challenges of fuel poverty and household energy efficiency to promote solidarity in the EU and move towards sustainable development.
Linda Gillham (UK/EA), Member of Runnymede Borough Council and CoR Member, presented the results of a survey organised by the CoR 2020 Monitoring Platform which assessed the implementation of the poverty flagship initiative. Based on responses from regions and cities, the survey shows that greater visibility and awareness have been achieved and that the initiative's actions positively reflect local and regional needs. The most serious challenges faced across Europe were highlighted as being the provision of affordable and decent housing, fighting child poverty, and unemployment as a main element contributing to rising poverty and social exclusion.
Following adoption of various opinions on the subject and related initiatives (e.g. European Platform Against Poverty and Social Exclusion, employment package, European Social Fund, Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived), the CoR is currently preparing an opinion on the European Commission's Social Investment Package (rapporteur Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam). Its adoption by the CoR plenary is scheduled for October 2013.
The event was part of a series of conferences being organised by the CoR that assess each of the seven Europe 2020 flagship initiatives at a local and regional level. The conclusions of the conference will feed into the CoR's contribution to the mid-term evaluation of the Europe 2020 strategy to be available at the 6th European Summit of Regions and Cities to be organised by the CoR in Athens on 7-8 March 2014.
"Innovation Union" was adopted in December 2010 as one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy. It commits the EU to increase investment in research to 3% of GDP by 2020.