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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Investing in children today for our collective well-being tomorrow
Eurochild Conference / Milan
15 November 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to address you directly at this conference.
I would start by expressing my thanks to Eurochild and its members for playing such an active role in our common efforts to reduce poverty and eliminate social exclusion and discrimination.
We all know that the current crisis has in particular affected children and their families:
Because prevention is better than cure, we need to invest more in children now — for their well-being today and our collective economic and social future tomorrow.
That is the main message of the Commission Recommendation on Investing in Children: let’s break the cycle of disadvantage.
The Recommendation offers guidance to stimulate policy reform in the Member States and encourages them to focus on successful social investment benefiting children.
In all measures taken or planned, the goal should be to ensure as much as possible participation of children themselves. I appreciate that this is very much the focus of this conference and greet therefore specifically the children in the room today.
As Ms Tuite explained on Wednesday, the Commission is currently finalising an important study on child participation to map legislation, policy and practice in all Member States.
The adoption of the Commission recommendation and the support received for it was an achievement as such. But it is only a next step in our work. We need now to concentrate on implementation.
Of course, it is first and foremost for Member States to take concrete actions. But at the European level we certainly can support the Member States and regional and local actors.
First of all by identifying and highlighting best practices. We need to learn from each other what works.
The European Platform for Investing in Children helps in doing this by gathering and sharing evidence-based good practice for each of the Recommendation’s three pillars. It will soon provide specific information on how each of the Member States performs.
The next Annual Convention of the European Platform against Poverty taking place on 26 and 27 November will also be an important opportunity to look at implementation. The programme features several child-related events in which also Eurochild is involved. I hope to meet many of you again at that occasion.
Besides facilitating exchanges between all relevant actors, the EU also issues concrete Country Specific Recommendations as part of the annual European Semester procedure.
Last summer 14 Member States received country-specific recommendations on child and family policy.
For example, Italy received one on the need to improve childcare provision.
Preparations for the 2014 European Semester have just started with the Commission publishing its Annual Growth Survey two days ago.
It makes a strong plea for more investment in human capital, and in particular in children.
Shifting resources to preventive health measures and early childhood education and care can improve children's socio-economic situation and encourage women to get into the labour market.
The Annual Growth Survey also points out that Member States should now step up active support and training for the unemployed as well as modernising education systems.
School to work transitions will in particular be supported through Youth Guarantee schemes which all Member States are now setting up, based upon wide partnerships including with youth organisations.
With the Youth Guarantee Member States should ensure that all young people up to the age of 25 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of leaving education or becoming unemployed. You can therefore consider the Youth Guarantee as a continuation of our social investment in children.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Investment and also social investment requires money. The major part needs to come from the Member States themselves. They should realise that if they invest now, they avoid much higher costs for individuals and society at a later stage. The EU is helping through the different EU funds.
In this sense your conference is also very timely as the negotiations are on-going on how to program EU funds in the 2014-2020 period, including aspects related to investment in human capital.
Civil society should be given an active role in this programming, ensuring that Member States make full use of the opportunities provided by the Structural Funds — for example in the fields of early childhood education and care, de institutionalisation and alternative community care.
Once the programming is done, NGOs should play an active role in the implementation of activities, as actors, but also as part of the monitoring committees checking on the proper investment of EU funds to achieve the agreed objectives.
NGO's will also be actors in implementing the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived. This Fund, although modest in size, can play an important role in alleviating situations of distress an increasing number of families and children find themselves in.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me finish by drawing your attention to a wider debate we are currently having at the European level.
The situation of our children and families will only improve in a sustainable way if we pay more attention to social aspects in our economic and budgetary policies.
This is why we have proposed, as part of the social dimension of the economic and monetary union, to monitor more closely the situation in our Member States as regards:
This will allow major employment and social problems to be identified earlier and more accurately. The Country Specific Recommendations we will be proposing next year will take this into account.
I see an important role in particular for national civil society organisations, such as the members of Eurochild, to remind Member States of the social developments that need to be addressed and to remind them of the commitments the Member States have made as part of the Europe 2020 strategy. This in particular applies to the commitment to reduce by 20 million the number of people facing poverty or social exclusion in the EU by 2020.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Continuing the debate, receiving your input and keeping up momentum are vital at this critical time.
We need to give hope for a better future to our young people. If they feel left behind we risk turning parts of the next generation away from the EU and its democratic values.
I again congratulate Eurochild with its excellent work and look forward to continue working together for a stronger social Europe with full respect for its children.