The Annual Convention on Inclusive Growth, held on 21 March in Brussels, is the new format of the former Convention of the European Platform against Poverty, one of the Europe 2020 strategy’s flagship initiatives linked to EU targets i.e. in this case on reducing poverty. It was an occasion for the European Commission to present its newest initiative, the ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’.
AGE Platform participated in the Convention with four of its members from France, Netherlands, Greece and Germany together with two secretariat staff. AGE also spoke in a panel focusing on in-work poverty, highlighting the difficulties of older workers, and especially women, to find adequate jobs and the consequences of in-work poverty on old-age income.
European Commission launches broad consultation on the European pillar of social rights
Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Social Affairs and Employment, opened the Convention affirming that a European social pillar is essential and follows from the Europe 2020 strategy, which still bears its importance. Jutta Klijnsma, Dutch Minister of Social Affairs speaking for the EU Presidency, affirmed that solutions to poverty must be local and based on the participation of those having experienced poverty. Both encouraged civil society organisations to take part in the public consultation to help defining the European Pillar of Social Rights.
A pillar focused on the EMU and on combatting inequalities and divergence
Allan Larsson, recently appointed by President Jean-Claude Juncker as Special Adviser on the European Pillar of Social Rights, explained the background and objectives of the European Commission’s initiative: it should be focused on the monetary union, defend the well-proven European social models, while preserving the different clusters and strengths of each national system. For Mr Larsson, the pillar is necessary as poverty has increased since the crisis, there is increasing divergence between member states, working lives evolve together with new technologies and because demography puts social protection systems under stress. The whole social acquis of the European Union should be reviewed and, if necessary, readapted in order to respond to new challenges over the next decades. The pillar will cover 20 domains around the rights to work, the rights in work and the social protection. The economic foundation is the insight to further reforms of the social acquis, in line with converging findings recently highlighted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, International Labour Office (ILO) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that inequality is a drag on growth.
How social is the European Semester and what should be its role in the new pillar of social rights?
Various side-events took part during the Convention. One on them looked in particular at the social dimension of the European Semester. Bart Vanhecke, from the European Social Observatory, presented his research showing a prudent and partial ‘socialisation’ of the Semester between 2011 and 2014. With the Juncker Commission put in place in 2015, the choice has been deliberately made to make the Semester more focused and based on fewer Commission’s recommendations. This resulted in fewer properly social recommendations, even though social considerations can be found in recommendations focusing on other areas, such as on the housing market.
In terms of the Semester’s governance, a recommendation was made to all stakeholders to make themselves known to the European Semester Officers (ESOs) present in national capitals and whose role is to facilitate the involvement of all interested actors in the process. Several AGE members have been already in contact with ESOs as part of the 2016 round of the European Semester. Even though national ministries remain responsible for conducting relevant consultations in the framework of the Semester, the ESOs may play helpful role in democratising the entire process.
AGE speaking at side-event on in-work poverty
A side-event organised by the European Trade Union Confederation was attended by AGE members. AGE highlighted the long-term consequences of in-work poverty on pension income, the specific challenges of older women whose employment rates range far below older men’s, which are already only at 52%. AGE pointed at the importance of measures to support work-life balance, underpinned by an investment into care services, to reduce this gender gap in employment and ultimately in pensions. AGE also called for more targeted policies to enable older unemployed to be hired and older workers to continue working until statutory retirement age and beyond if they wish or need so.
In follow-up to the event, AGE will prepare a large consultation of its members in response to the proposal of the European Pillar of Social Rights as well as mobilise them through this year’s European Semester – to ensure older people’s rights are included and the fight against poverty is not forgotten on European level.
For more information, please contact Philippe Seidel Leroy from the Secretariat: email@example.com