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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Europe's human dimension
Eurofound's 3rd European Quality of Life Survey /Brussels
29 November 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to congratulate Eurofound on producing this timely report. We are now into the fourth year of this crisis, and we need to know more about how households are coping with the situation.
We all know the general context: increasing unemployment, greater inequalities and growing poverty and exclusion are hampering growth, undermining social cohesion and the sustainability of public finances.
Deeper down, this is also a crisis of confidence — in our institutions, in our future and in our very values. We need to take stock of what that means and what the consequences may be.
Only if policy-makers stay alert to the signals that citizens are sending will they be able to apply policy that focuses on key priorities and addresses the population's main concerns.
We need to be aware of the situation of those people most affected by the crisis and of the impact austerity and reform programmes have.
In our quest for a better, more equal and more resilient society, we need sound evidence. Eurofound's European Quality of Life Survey offers a dependable source of evidence and fleshes out the human dimension of contemporary Europe.
The Survey highlights large and persistent divisions that go far beyond purely economic inequalities. Today's Europe is divided in terms of subjective well-being, health, confidence in the future and trust in public institutions.
This underlines the need for a renewed attention to the key principle of solidarity. This solidarity should be strengthened within countries, but clearly also between the Member States. The ongoing discussions on the European budget are the litmus test in this regard.
The survey teaches us that fewer than 30% of people in Greece, Slovakia and Portugal are optimistic about the future, compared to over 80% in Denmark and Sweden.
Unsurprisingly the greatest decline in subjective well-being occurred among those in low income households, the unemployed and older people in Central and Eastern Europe. Over a third of respondents said that their financial situation deteriorated over the previous year – particularly people with low incomes, and those aged 50 to 64.
Another Survey finding is that unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, is synonymous with low subjective well-being, feelings of exclusion and lack of trust in society. Yet fighting social exclusion should not simply rely on labour market and income measures.
Family provides the basis of social contact and the main source of support in times of need. Therefore we must help families to achieve a suitable work-life balance and to cope with their care obligations, in particular by providing affordable and accessible care services.
The European Quality of Life Survey indicates that satisfaction with one’s personal situation remains higher than satisfaction with the quality of society or the local environment. EU policies should take this into account and pay particular attention to strengthening governance and empowering local communities.
In terms of the functioning of society, there is an increased perception of rifts between racial and ethnic groups and tensions between rich and poor. Such social tensions are especially evident among the most disadvantaged groups. This trend could be an early warning of the potential for social disruption and the weakening of the social fabric of our societies.
We need look no further than these results for evidence of the need to engage all European and national welfare mechanisms in alleviating the hardships experienced by vulnerable groups.
The Annual Growth Survey 2013 adopted yesterday identifies once more the tackling of unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis as one of its priorities. However, each of the priorities of the Annual Growth Survey is connected to the challenge of employment and the fight against poverty.
With the employment package adopted in April, the Commission gave new impetus to achieving the employment target of the Europe 2020 strategy.
It provided a medium-term agenda for EU and Member States action to support a job-rich recovery based upon an identification of the EU's biggest job potential areas and the most effective ways - in today's difficult economic and social climate - for Member States to create more jobs.
The area of the highest concern remains however youth unemployment. Eurofound has recently pointed again to the huge costs for society of those young people neither in employment, education or training.
One year after having presented the Youth Opportunities Initiative, the Commission will come forward next week with a youth employment package. This package will focus on two main elements:
The challenges we face are of a much broader nature than the consequences of the crisis alone. An ageing population, a shrinking workforce, increasing dependency ratios and changing family patterns put pressure on the health care and social protection budgets of Member States.
We need to modernise the European social model so that it mobilises a larger share of Europe's human capital and raises its productivity. At the same time, we must ensure social inclusion of disadvantaged people and an adequate level of social protection.
This is why the Commission will present early next year a Social Investment Package for Growth and Cohesion.
The Social Investment Package will provide concrete guidance for the modernisation of welfare states, on the shape of such reforms and on how the EU can support Member States in this context. The conventional social protection paradigm would need to be supplemented by a more forward-looking social investment approach, inter alia by pointing to good practices that already exist in some Member States and regions.
One element of the package that I would like to highlight in particular is the Recommendation on child poverty. Investing in children and supporting their families is one of the most efficient investments Europe can make. It will not only enhance children's well-being and the right to live in dignity, but also help our societies prepare for a better long-term future.
Finally, the Package will provide guidance for the use of European financial instruments, and in particular the European Social fund, to support its implementation.
The evidence that we get out of the Survey presented today will very usefully feed into the preparations of this package.
It is clear that if Europe is to be successful in addressing the challenges created by the changes our societies go through we must adapt our economic, social and employment policies, reform social protection systems and ensure a sustained investment in human capital.
Once again, thank you for your efforts in producing this Survey. This comprehensive and inspiring portrait of life will assist us in designing our EU policies in the most relevant manner, connected to the realities of the current situation in the Member States.