European Parliament’s opinions on the European Semester 2014

The European Parliament has adopted its resolution on the 2014 European Semester in its plenary session on 22 October 2014. The report highlights some key points concerning labour market and pension reforms that are in line with AGE’s position on the European Semester. However, more focus should be put on the quality and affordability of long-term care throughout the European Semester exercise.

Persistently high unemployment levels

The ‘De Backer’ report points out the ‘persistently high level’ of unemployment and the shortcomings in attaining the 75%-employment-target of the Europe 2020 Strategy. It highlights growing skills mismatches and high divergences between countries and sectors in the access to employment and working conditions. The report upholds the importance of EU legislation on working conditions and discrimination to protect workers and to integrate women and people with disabilities into the labour market. The Parliament calls upon the Commission and member states to invest in education and skills, including life-long learning. The Parliament welcomes the use of social scoreboards in this year’s Semester and asks for additional indicators on the quality of work, access to healthcare and homelessness. The Parliament expresses concern for the reduction of budgets allocated to active labour market policies in some countries.

A particularly strong stance is taken in favour of employment of women: the Parliament calls for specific programmes to allow them to find a job and to reduce the gender pay and gender pension gap. It also calls for investments in childcare services and to provide flexible working time arrangements. Senior workers are referred to by reminding their high rate of unemployment. The Parliament recommends the use of the European Social Fund to include them.

AGE welcomes the priority given to employment, but more specific programmes to favour the employment of older people, and especially of older women are needed. The development of affordable quality care solutions for older people is an important condition to favour older women’s employment. Life-long learning should be accessible to people of all age.

Poverty: still a priority, despite regress

The Parliament expresses deep concern about the regress on poverty reduction – 10 million more people being at risk of poverty than in the beginning of the Europe 2020 strategy – and asks the Commission and Member States to report on this in National Reform Programmes. The Parliament calls for measures to reduce economic inequalities. The report asks to target those groups which are at the greatest risk of social exclusion in national active inclusion strategies, targeting also persons with disabilities and with reduced work capacity.

The Parliament welcomes minimum income schemes and the recommendations aimed to increase adequacy and coverage of these schemes.

AGE considers that the fight against poverty has to be stepped up. Old-age poverty constitutes a violation of fundamental rights that disproportionally affects older women, older migrants and the ‘oldest old’. It should be prevented by adequate minimum pensions or adequate minimum income schemes.

Pensions: more dialogue with social partners

On pensions, the Parliament expresses its regret that the commission did pursue pension reforms without taking into account the Parliament’s position. The Parliament asks to promote social cohesion in pension reforms and to have a particular eye on adequacy of pensions. For the Parliament, pension reforms should be negotiated upon by social partners.

AGE considers that pension reforms should have an eye both on sustainability and on adequacy of pensions. Where pension systems shift towards more funded pensions, particular attention has to be paid to the generation of the transition phase, which has not had the time yet to contribute to such schemes. To be adequate, pensions should be reviewed regularly in line with inflation and wages.

Health and long-term care: important but widely absent

Only one article in the report refers to health care reforms. The Parliament notes the Commission’s stance to deliver universal public access to high-quality care all while doing so in a cost-effective manner. However, the Parliament does not qualify the Commission’s recommendations nor does it call for a focus on quality. AGE considers this the major shortcoming of the report.

AGE notes that health and long-term care are topics which are increasingly taken up in the European Semester. The Semester should not only promote cost-efficiency, but also ensure that care systems focus on high quality and affordability. The growing care needs should be prepared by timely investment into care infrastructures.

More inclusiveness and better targeting

The report calls for involving the European and national Parliaments earlier in the European Semester exercise to prevent the emergence of a ‘legitimacy gap’. The Parliament wants the Europe 2020 Strategy to be closer linked to the European Semester, especially the results of the social scoreboards should have more impact on the outcomes of the process. Also, the matter of social inclusion is framed as a question of fundamental rights and the Fundamental Rights Agency should assess the impact of fiscal consolidation measures on fundamental rights.

AGE welcomes a closer link of the Europe 2020 Strategy to the European Semester. The Semester should focus more strongly on its social outcomes and streamline fundamental rights, especially art. 25 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights regarding the rights of the elderly. Social impact assessments of the proposed measures are key safeguards for ensuring the rights of the most vulnerable are not harmed by the proposed measures. In the European Semester process, a larger space should be given to social partners and civil society organisation in order to provide inputs.

Recent positions of AGE Platform Europe and AGE’s partners on the European Semester:

Other news on the European Semester

For further information, please contact Philippe Seidel, philippe.seidel@age-platform.eu

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