Good afternoon, to complement what my colleagues, Valdis and Pierre, just said let me start with the economic and social situation we are in. Economic performance and social conditions are and remain uneven. We see substantial differences between the Member States. Disparities among them persist in many areas such as job creation, long term unemployment or youth unemployment.
In terms of living conditions, our Member States have been drifting apart instead of moving closer together. We need to reverse this trend. This is what we need for Europe to be future-proof. People need to see opportunities and a decent level of protection everywhere in the EU. In terms of economic and social conditions we need to move closer together. This is what we call upwards convergence.
In this context let me be very clear: economic growth and social fairness must go hand-in-hand. They are two sides of the same coin. This is a conviction that is very much at the heart of this Commission. Therefore since last year we have improved the European Semester to strengthen the social dimension of our economic governance.
This years' Annual Growth Survey achieves just that.
We want to prioritise investment without forgetting human capital and related social investment.
A lot remains to be done to find the right balance between flexibility and security. We need to avoid precarious jobs becoming the norm and labour markets where just a few enjoy high standards of social protection and many next to none. The most extreme form of precariousness is, of course, undeclared work. So I'm very happy that there is a deal on the Commission's proposal to establish a platform against undeclared work.
We ask for structural reforms to improve how labour markets work, but we also ask for product and service market reforms to help job creation.
Pension and healthcare spending face challenges in the face of an increasingly older population. We propose solutions to keep social protection accessible, adequate and sustainable for this generation and the next.
On the tax front, we highlight both the need to shift taxes away from labour and to fight evasion: both measures support employment creation and fairness.
Special attention to employment and social issues is also reflected in the specific recommendations for the Euro Area, illustrated by Valdis and Pierre.
Moreover, in the Alert Mechanism Report we now also take a closer look at indicators such as youth unemployment, long-term unemployment and the activity rate in our analysis of macroeconomic imbalances. This will help us better understand employment and social impacts and challenges.
This is what we mean when we talk about taking into account the social dimension – it does not mean only social legislative proposals but really considering the impact of our policies on people.
The third element of the package adopted today is the draft Joint Employment Report. It gives you an annual overview of key employment and social developments in Europe. The trend indicates clearly that the employment and social situation slowly improves while divergence among and within Member States still persists.
Several Member States have pursued reforms. The positive effects are clearly visible, not least in increasing employment rates. However, they still need to do more to stimulate growth and create a positive environment for the creation of quality jobs.
Getting the long-term unemployed back into jobs must remain a priority. Long-term unemployment now accounts for 50% of unemployment. This is not only inacceptable from a human and social point of view, it can also have significant negative effects for economic growth. I'm confident that the Council will agree before the end of the year on our recommendation which sets out concrete steps to help the long term unemployed back into jobs.
Powerty: there are too many people in Europe at risk of poverty still. This means there is scope to improve social protection systems. They need to support individual development, help with labour market and life-course transitions and foster social cohesion.
We need to ease transitions to new jobs and better match jobseekers and vacancies. I am very happy that negotiations to update the EURES job search platform have just been concluded successfully which aims to do exactly that. We still have 2 million vacancies unfilled in spite of millions of unemployed. Part of the answer is also to equip jobseekers with the right skills. This is precisely what I am intending to support with the skills agenda coming up early next year.
Ladies and Gentelman,
While we underline the need for an inclusive approach for those furthest away from the labour market and those hit hardest by the crisis, we also need to be ready to integrate the incoming refugees. I believe fast and efficient labour market integration matters most in this respect.
Let me conclude with a very simple message: When we talk about a "social triple A" for Europe in this Commission, we mean it. And this is not just a slogan. It is hard work. For us and for the Member States. It also means we need to have the social partners on board if we are to achieve this common goal. As the figures today show, we are on the right track and things are moving in the right direction. But only very slowly. We need to speed up and continue our common refforts to get there. Thank you.