There are still more than 20 million people unemployed in the EU. While unemployment is consistently going down, this trend is still too slow. The level of poverty across Europe has stabilised for the first time, but it is still too high. Too much inequality hampers growth. And there are more social challenges ahead. The world of work is rapidly changing. We are confronted with long term challenges like globalisation, ageing societies and changing work patterns. The digital revolution is full of opportunities, but also entails a number of challenges. Therefore, we need to continue on the path of modernisation and reform together with Member States and social partners.
The European Semester makes sure that social considerations are not only an afterthought, but are integrated in all EU policy areas from the beginning. This year's recommendations have a strong focus on making sure that everybody can have access to the labour market and making sure that more people can stay in work for longer.
Let me give you a couple of examples what this means in practice this year:
We encourage Member States to modernise their social safety nets and give a stronger role to activation measures. This is a social and economic priority. To that end, we recommend strengthening active labour market policies and paying particular attention to the long-term unemployed and the young.
Several recommendations also address the quality of employment. The aim is not only to bring the unemployed back into jobs, but to keep them there. And while flexibility is important, we also need to make sure that employees have the protection they need. Furthermore, to stimulate job creation, Member States need to continue to pursue efforts to reduce the tax wedge on labour.
This year, many recommendations address the challenge of skills, education and training. Employers in Europe are searching for qualified workers. Many workers are searching for a job that fits their talent and education. We must make the ends meet by investing in skills. Up- and re-skilling of the unemployed is key to bringing them back into jobs. The upcoming New Skills Agenda for Europe, which I will soon present, will support Member States in this respect.
All these reforms cannot occur without a strong social dialogue. The Commission supports a greater involvement of the social partners in policy making at both national and European level. This is also well reflected in our Country Specific Recommendations.
Finally, the structural funds are there to support Member States in their reform efforts and put the recommendations into practice.
I look forward to a close and fruitful cooperation with Member States in the run up to the adoption of the Country Specific Recommendations, as well as during the implementation phase.