Marianne Thyssen - EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility
Annual Convention of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion
Good morning and welcome to the 4th Annual Convention of the European Platform. It is a pleasure for me to be here so early in my term of office. President Juncker, who unfortunately could not be with us today due to agenda constraints, also wishes to convey his warm support of the Platform and his commitment to promoting its purposes.
By bringing such a range of stakeholders from the Member States and the EU institutions together, this Convention provides a golden opportunity to discuss and come up with practical proposals on how we can best tackle the unemployment crisis and strengthen European social policies for preventing and reducing poverty.
I want to take this opportunity to spell out the way I see my mandate, a vision that I have discussed in depth and share with President Juncker.
The new Commission's agenda
I don’t need to tell you the dire situation in which so many European citizens find themselves. There are 24 million unemployed people and almost 123 million at risk of poverty. There is a risk that our youth will become a 'lost generation' with poor skills and no work experience. Not only are there almost 12 million people across the EU who have been unemployed for more than 12 months, but long-term unemployment is also becoming a structural phenomenon. And Europe is getting further and further behind in meeting the headline targets for raising the employment rate to 75% and reducing the number of people living at risk of poverty and social exclusion by 20 million by 2020.
Those are the challenges we face. And this Commission will be measured by its ability to address them successfully.
We are setting our sights high. President Juncker is convinced that investment, jobs and rebalancing the economic and social agenda are necessary to give new impetus to the European project; to drive a job-rich recovery with better access to decent jobs as the highest priority. And I am fully committed to delivering on the President’s pledge before the European Parliament.
This is a fresh start – with the chance to have a fresh look at what we do and how we do it. We need to put all our energy into generating jobs, growth, fairness and democratic change.
We shall do this by building on investments and structural reform. We are fully aware that this is perhaps the last chance and that is why we must do our utmost to get Europe a triple A social rating.
My priorities: job creation, decent jobs and social fairness
The top priority is job creation. That will be the core of the 300 billion euro growth and investment plan announced by President Juncker, which will be presented soon.
The investment package is a chance to put our economy back on track. To give employers a better chance to develop their businesses, and thus, help people who are struggling, and particularly Europe's unemployed young people, make the shift into decent and rewarding jobs.
As the EU's flagship programme for investing in people and their skills, the European Social Fund can contribute in the package.
The European project can make a direct and positive impact on the lives of our fellow citizens by putting people at the centre of Europe's recovery.
The Member States whose social welfare systems invest in people at all stages of life are those that have the most successful and competitive economies. They are the ones that have resisted the crisis best. Nonetheless, population ageing is putting the financing of social protection systems under high pressure. In everything we do, we must pay attention to quality and fairness. We must consolidate and improve the effectiveness of social protection, and step up the struggle against poverty.
Modernisation of Social Protection Systems – Three essential elements
It is my intention to help the Member States modernise their social welfare systems, which should be based on activating, protecting, and enabling people. Let me elaborate on that point.
The basis for sustainable participation in the labour market is an effective and efficient social protection system. This means a tax-benefit system with incentives, unemployment benefits that are supported by activation measures, and targeted support for those with a disability or care needs.
All EU citizens should have access to basic social protection when they experience hardship. Social protection systems must be preventative and protective, starting from an early age. This helps people to cope with risks that can arise during the course of their lives. It starts with child benefits and childcare, and goes right through to support to enable elderly people to live independently.
Lastly, social protection systems must allow for social and labour market inclusion. This calls for adequate, well-targeted income support, joined up with quality services and inclusive labour-market measures.
How the Commission will support these efforts: economic governance and social dialogue
To achieve this Commission’s aims, we need to strengthen and rebalance economic governance. That means the Europe 2020 Strategy needs to reflect the need to foster job creation in practical terms, by promoting investment and structural reform.
We shall endeavour to ensure that the European Semester treats employment and social issues on an equal footing with macroeconomic issues.
The Commission will step up its support for the Member States through country-specific recommendations on labour market reform and targeted guidance on modernising social protection systems. We shall also mobilise financial support from the European Social Fund, which accounts for 17 billion euros over seven years to fight poverty and social exclusion. This intervention is complemented with over €3.8 billion that are earmarked for the Fund for European Aid to the most deprived for the 2014-2020 period.
Through these instruments, Europe has reached out to its citizens and supports measures that make a difference in their lives; Housing projects, food and material assistance, help to start up their own businesses, to develop new skills, to find new jobs, to have appropriate childcare for their children. This way Europe is present on the ground, in European citizens’ everyday life.
Another cornerstone in efforts to ensure that quality jobs and fairness are part of Europe's social market economy is our dialogue with the social partners. In cooperation with the President and Vice-President Dombrovskis, I have agreed to get social dialogue started again in order to strengthen employment, speed up structural reform and unleash Europe’s growth potential. On Monday we had two constructive meetings with European trade unions and employers. It gave us the chance to listen to the social partners' views on the economic situation before launching the 2015 European Semester process.
This marked the beginning of a new approach. And to follow it up, we agreed to hold a high-level event in spring next year. This will help foster employment opportunities for those out of work, in particular in SMEs, which are the backbone of Europe’s economy. It will mean more opportunities to help people get on their feet and move up the employment ladder.
Improving social dialogue must go hand in hand with dialogue with other stakeholders, including civil society. Your contribution on the ground is crucial and can help the most vulnerable to make themselves heard.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges are huge. We need more and better jobs and more efficient and effective social welfare systems. The Commission is prepared to do its bit and I know that you are too. I look forward to hearing the results of your discussions tomorrow and seeing how we can take this forward.