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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Speech: The Social Investment Package – focussing on growth and social cohesion
Press conference, Brussels,
20 February 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European Commission has adopted today a Social Investment Package. This completes the cycle we started with the White Paper on Pensions, the Employment Package of April 2012, continued with the Youth Employment Package in December 2012, and which now ends with the adoption of this Package. These documents have served a triple purpose: they deliver initiatives that had been announced in the Europe 2020 Strategy back in 2010, they respond to the deepening economic and social crisis, and they also prepare for closer coordination of policies within the EU.
There is no doubt that the social consequences of the current financial and economic crisis are very serious. Unemployment has reached an unprecedented level in most Member States. Almost 120 million people in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. More and more people live in jobless households, and many more than before live on the streets. These regrettable trends will not be reversed without changing course. We must act.
Finding the way out of the financial crisis, of course, remains crucial from this point of view. However, modernising welfare states is no less important. This is what today's package is above all aiming at. Member States' social policies need to learn from the best performing European welfare states, to be simpler, to adopt a life-cycle approach, and to work more coherently against gender inequalities.
The Social Investment Package delivers a Recommendation on fighting child poverty, which was a promise since launching the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, just over two years ago. Reducing inequality at a young age by investing in early childhood education and care must be a shared commitment of all our national governments.
The Package also delivers a report on active inclusion, which has been at the heart of EU social policies in recent years, based upon adequate income support, inclusive labour markets and access to quality services.
The package also includes a number of analytical documents, for example on homelessness and health care reform. We are also calling on Member States to use their social budgets more efficiently and more effectively to better respond to the crisis.
The Commission will be closely monitoring the performance of individual Member States' social protection systems as part of the European Semester. At the same time, we are offering guidance on how best to use EU financial resources, notably from the European Social Fund, to boost social investment. This can serve a variety of actions,such as providing better childcare, tackling early school leaving, improving the quality of training and job search support and making health care more accessible.
The Commission has proposed that at least 20 per cent of total European Social Fund resources in each Member State shall be used for promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. We also proposed that the ESF should be endowed with at least 25 per cent of cohesion policy funding. And this is, actually, the best time to recall this important proposal, given the forthcoming negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council about the Multiannual Financial Framework.
At the EU level, the European Social Fund is the main source of social investment. The Fund can also leverage other financial resources for the same purposes. Ensuring that the ESF has adequate resources, as proposed by the European Council, and improving the efficiency of ESF investments, are equally important objectives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Social investment is key if we want to emerge from the crisis stronger, more cohesive and more competitive. Member States need to shift their focus to investment in human capital and social cohesion. By investing now, Member States can avoid paying a much higher financial and social bill in the future.
We have, unfortunately, seen examples when social expenditures have been decimated in the name of competitiveness, or similar misguided ideas. Short-sightedness, however, can be very costly. We should not overlook what President Barroso emphasised in the State of the Union address last September: "It is precisely those European countries with the most effective social protection systems and with the most developed social partnerships that are among the most successful and competitive economies in the world."
The Social Investment Package does not address all aspects of social policies in the EU. Nevertheless, in the current environment, we expect it to connect with discussions on the future of the welfare state in Europe and on the European Social Model. Together with the Irish Presidency of the Council, we are planning a major conference about the Social Investment Package and its contribution to the improvement of social policies in the EU, to be held in the Spring period.