The EU aims at being, in 2020, "smarter, greener, more inclusive."
The biggest social protection projection of the 2020 plan is the lifting of 20 million people from the risk of poverty (compared with the situation as registered in 2008).
To achieve this, the EU relies on several bodies. The EU Social Found was created in 1957 as part of the Treaty of Rome, and its goal was to cater for post-war job loss. Along the years, and following its revision by the Treaty of Lisbon and its inclusion in the 2020 Strategy, it became one of the pillars for social inclusion. It now focuses on investing in training, education and on helping people to integrate into the labor market. It works in close cooperation with the Social Investment Package, considered one of the main flagships of the 2020 goal. The SIP covers three main areas: employment, with the target of helping people who lost their jobs to find a new profession. Pensions, through a White Paper that includes the EU strategy for adequate pensions. And youth employment, which tackles the issue of growing youth unemployment, especially with regards to low-educated people.
Finally, the EU heavily relies on the European Platform for action against poverty and social exclusion.
The work of the Platform focuses on five main topics. First, it ensures that an adequate amount of funds is allocated to social inclusion activities. This task was endorsed by the European Commission in 2013, and now at least 20% of the EU Social Found is reserved for reducing the risk of poverty and social exclusion, specifically with regards to the weaker sectors of the population. These segments include women, who are often paid less and more likely to be let go from their jobs, non-skilled workers who recently lost their jobs due to the crisis, migrants, and disabled people. The Platform makes sure that these funds are available and that they are correctly used. The second focal point of its mandate is to make sure that the initiatives in place to enhance social inclusion are efficient and appropriately designed to achieve their objectives. In this regards, the Platform is entitled to monitor the results of the Member States and, as the third focus of its role, to work toward better coordination among the national Governments.
The fourth and biggest objective of the Platform is to enhance, in the policy-making context, actions directed to improve healthcare, access to the job market, social insurance, education, and housing. Only a holistic approach to these issues can, in fact, ensure that the 2020 objectives are met by all the Member States. To do so, as the fifth and last goal, the Platform needs to make sure that the civil society is adequately represented.
The EU has been working on reaching the 2020 goals for seven years, and despite the efforts put into increasing social inclusion, there is still much to do to meet the 2020 objectives.
The latest report by Eurostat, based on 2014 data, shows that in 17 countries the number of individuals at risk of poverty has increased in the EU since 2008. Women are also in a worse situation in many countries compared with the past. While until the beginning of the crisis the risk of poverty was mostly equally shared between men and women, after 2012 women find themselves in a weaker spot. Eurostat also notes that education plays a paramount role in avoiding the risk of poverty: those with a lower education level are more exposed to social exclusion and, even more daunting, it is a situation that is often passed to the next generations.
Faced with these results, the European Commission has acknowledged that there is no rapid improvement in the fight against poverty and that, by 2020, there will be approximately 100 million people living in poverty inside the EU.
However, the EU continues in its plan to increase inclusion, and it has launched additional programs, such as the Agenda for new skills and jobs, to try and reduce as much as possible the risk of poverty and to support a smoother integration in the job market of young, women and unemployed people.
There is still a significant gap between reality and the 2020 objectives for social inclusion in Europe. But this does not mean that everything is lost and that the measures put in place so far have been completely ineffective. The European Platform against poverty and social exclusion has achieved some results so far, as reported in its scoreboards. Some countries also have shown signs of improvement in their social inclusion results in the last years and demonstrated that poverty could decrease.
The biggest problem for the EU to achieve its desired social inclusion remains at the moment the uneven impact of the economic crisis on its territory. And this situation is where the Union shows its weakest point, its difficulties in abandoning the 'one fit all' approach and in further tailor making its policies to cater for different situations among its members. The European Platform is, in this sense, the first step toward a more diversified approach, thanks also to the involvement of the national civil societies, but it still requires further development to become fully productive and efficient.
Cover Image: WWF European Policy Office, © European Union, 2012 EU flags in front of the Berlaymont bulding, in Brussels, available on Flickr
This blog post is published as part of the Ambassador Series, which presents insights into social protection around the world from the viewpoint of our Ambassadors, a group of international online United Nations Volunteers who support the online knowledge exchange activities, networking and promotion of socialprotection.org.