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Mr. László ANDOR
EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
"The First European Poverty Convention: Another step forward in
1st European Poverty Convention
Krakow, 18 October 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
I spent this morning visiting two projects — the hotel and restaurant U Pana Cogito and the Social Integration Club in Nowa Huta. It was an enlightening and heart-warming experience.
The people I met impressed me with their commitment and dedication. They are examples of all that is best in Europe’s fight against poverty and social exclusion.
And they demonstrate the fact that eradicating poverty cannot be done just from the top down. It calls for a collective effort that involves us all.
We all know that the situation is not easy. The crisis has put huge pressure on our social welfare systems. Poverty and homelessness are on the rise and the situation is grim for vulnerable groups in many Member States.
Some governments are walking a tightrope in their efforts to reduce spending without sacrificing growth and people’s well-being. Of course, we need to balance our budgets and reduce debt. But we also need to preserve growth and safeguard people’s welfare.
The key messages that have come out of the workshops and the ministers’ round table show that efforts to create financial stability in the short term need to mesh and work in with our long-term objectives to create smart, sustainable and especially inclusive growth.
That means working for all the targets set under our Europe 2020 Strategy — and in particular employment, education, poverty reduction and social inclusion. It calls for a multifaceted approach by all stakeholders.
And I venture to say that each and every European is a stakeholder in this context, because we all have a stake in ensuring our societies are cohesive and inclusive.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The fact that so many NGOs are here is proof of the interest this Convention has aroused and of the depth of people’s concern at the social situation. I think it also reflects Europeans’ deep and abiding belief in the value of solidarity, and their conviction that together we can overcome poverty.
That solidarity has cushioned the impact of the recession on people across the European Union. In different ways and to different degrees, our social welfare systems and social service-providers have protected people.
But social protection is not there just as a remedy when things are going badly. It is a social investment — an investment in our future prosperity and well-being.
Our Europe 2020 Strategy is based on the fundamental conviction that economic and social objectives can be mutually supportive. There can be no trade-off between economic efficiency and social equity. A strong economy relies on a cohesive society.
It is fair to say that the main responsibility for social inclusion policy lies with the Member States. But the European Union has contributed significantly and is determined to continue to do so in the future, in particular through our financial instruments.
In terms of the EU’s future spending plans. On 6 October the Commission put forward a proposal for legislation on Cohesion Policy for the period 2014 to 2020.
It steps up the role of the European Social Fund, which is the EU’s main instrument for investing in people and the clearest demonstration of the Union’s resolve and active involvement.
We propose that after 2013 the Fund should grow by at least 7.5% — and thus account for at least 25% of cohesion spending — that is, at least €84 billion for the seven-year period 2014 to 2020.
The Social Fund will contribute directly to three of the five EU headline targets under the Europe 2020 Strategy — for employment, for education and for reducing poverty and social exclusion. It will also indirectly support the other two headline targets — for promoting research and development, and for meeting our climate change and energy goals.
Our proposal for a regulation on the European Social Fund of the future involves allocating at least 20% of their Social Fund spending on “promoting social inclusion and combating poverty”. This is a substantial increase compared to the 13%, or some €10 billion, currently.
I hope the Member States and Parliament will support this increased focus on society’s most vulnerable groups.
Our proposal confirms the fundamental role of NGOs in grass-roots projects, which make a huge contribution. Under our proposal, the Member States may delegate a part of operational programmes to NGOs in the form of global grants.
The Member States are requested to earmark specific amounts in operational programmes for capacity-building in NGOs. And simplified cost options should reduce the administrative burden on small beneficiaries and small operations — those involving less than €50 000.
The proposal also widens the scope for social inclusion by putting more emphasis on helping the most vulnerable by setting investment priorities for promoting social inclusion and combating poverty, including:
Ladies and gentlemen,
Discussion here at the Convention during these two days has been intense and productive. Valuable suggestions have been made.
The Polish Presidency and the Commission will present a report to the Employment and Social Ministers based on the messages from the workshops with a view to feeding into the work of Heads of State and Governments at their summit meeting in December.
Let me summarise the key points as I see them from my perspective.
The first point is to mobilise in support of the national targets set. It is not acceptable that they fall short of our EU headline target. Although meeting them will be harder in today’s climate of spending cuts but we need to keep up the pressure here.
The second point is to promote employment as probably the most effective route out of poverty. Unemployment among our youth is especially distressing. Many unemployed young people are ready to enter the labour market but cannot find jobs. Helping them to do so is more crucial than ever. That is why the Commission will focus on the situation of young people in each Member State in its country-specific recommendations for next year. Furthermore, we will launch the Youth opportunities initiative soon.
The social economy is one instrument we can enlist in our fight against unemployment. I will shortly be publishing a Communication on the Social Business Initiative jointly with my colleagues Antonio Tajani and Michel Barnier, along with a paper on corporate social responsibility.
In 2012, the Commission will present a comprehensive report on the implementation of active inclusion strategies.
The third point involves stepping up our efforts to prevent the transmission of poverty across generations and give all children the chance to realise their potential, regardless of their social background. We plan to present a recommendation on this next year.
It also involves tackling poverty among the elderly and that means ensuring that pensions are adequate and pension systems are sustainable. I, together with Commissioners Barnier and Rehn, will present a White Paper on pensions shortly which will emphasise these points.
And let’s not forget that 2012 will be European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.
The fourth point is the need to promote evidence-based innovation in social policy, including the use of scientific methods to test and assess policy change.
The Polish Presidency Conference on “Innovative responses to the social impact of the crisis” in Wrocław last month highlighted many examples of social experimentation, covering a wide range of policy issues, such as education, employment, homelessness, minimum income benefit and youth.
The fifth point concerns the need to work for the social and economic inclusion of disadvantaged groups, and in particular Roma. This calls for joint efforts by national and local authorities, civil society and the EU institutions.
This is why the Commission has put forward a proposal for an "EU framework for Roma National Integration Strategies". In particular to improve the use of EU funds for all marginalised communities, including Roma, for the benefit of society as a whole. I expect the Member States to duly reflect on these issues in their national strategies and to report back on this in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy which would also demonstrate their commitment to take this issue very seriously.
I would also encourage Member States to fully use the instruments of the social Open Method of Coordination. This concerns for example, taking part in peer reviews also involving non-governmental partners and joint assessments of the adequacy and sustainability of their policies. In this context I also wish to express my appreciation for the work done in the Social Protection Committee and its indicators subgroup.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As the nights grow colder and longer, I know you are all thinking of the plight of Europe’s poor and homeless — and all those individuals and organisations who work so selflessly for them.
I want to express my thanks to the Polish Presidency — and to all those who have made this Convention happen — for their dedication and hard work.
As far as the future of the Convention is concerned, I am planning to appoint Ambassadors whose task would be to help the work of the Convention but also to help raise awareness of our work in the Convention.
I look forward to seeing how much we have achieved when we meet next year at the Platform’s second Annual Convention.
My best wishes to you all as you return to your own countries.