Council/EP: Views on Annual Growth Survey / Commission: Review of Europe 2020

The European Council and the Parliament published their conclusions on the 2014 Annual Growth Survey (AGS), a document in which the Commission sets forth the priorities for the European Semester process, elaborating country-specific recommendations for the Member States with an impact on social policy. Meanwhile, the European Commission has issued a communication for a mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy, announcing a public consultation later this year.

Employment in the AGS 2014

The issue of employment comes up in relation to the current employment crisis. While a lot of focus is put on youth unemployment, the Council stresses also that economic reforms have to promote employment and social inclusion generally.

The Parliament puts an emphasis on carers. It calls for the need to train more qualified carers in order to cope with demographic change, but also to create supportive systems for informal carers. It asks that European funds be allocated towards the capacity-building of carers.

The Parliament also calls for active inclusion strategies in order to enable older persons to work. Most notably, this should be realised by life-long learning initiatives and the validation of non-formal and informal experiences in a European Qualification Framework by 2015.

Regarding the gender aspects of employment, the Parliament calls for a better inclusion of women in the labour market by advocating for affordable child care facilities, appropriate paternal and maternal leave and flexible working arrangements

Pension reforms in the AGS 2014

Concerning pension reform, the Council called for ‘a wider menu of policy options’ in raising the retirement age, a major strand of the reforms promoted by the Commission. The Council wants to balance contributions and benefits in a ‘socially faire manner’ and ensure that pension schemes are adequate.

The Parliament goes further in its comments. It underlines that it is important to render the pension system sustainable by raising the age of retirement and by eliminating early retirement schemes. However, the Parliament stresses that ‘pension reforms need to be accompanied by policies that […] develop employment opportunities for older workers, guarantee access to lifelong learning, introduce favourable tax policies offering incentives to stay in work longer, and support active healthy ageing’. It is important for the Parliament to take into account healthy life expectancy when reforming pensions. The Parliaments urges the States to act gradually towards pension reforms, in order to avoid abrupt changes that might be necessary in the future.

AGE is engaged in the European Semester process in order to ensure that the Commission’s recommendations reflect the situation of older people. AGE’s members are following up on the National Reform Programmes and their implementation on national level. In March, AGE has put efforts into compiling Country-Specific Recommendations from its national members into a document that will be sent to the Commission in early April. AGE has also contributed to the recommendations issued by European networks, such as the European Alliance for a Democratic, Safe and Sustainable European Semester.

Review of the Europe 2020 strategy

At the same time, the European Commission has issued a review of the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims (amongst other goals) to reduce the number of people living in poverty by 20 million between 2009 and 2020, as well as reaching 75% of employment. As the mid-term of the strategy approaches, European States face a big difficulty in meeting these targets.
Unemployment has risen from 7.1% (2008) to 10.9% (2012), while long-term unemployment has increased by 2.1 percentage points between 2008 and 2012. The Commission acknowledges that efforts need to be increased, especially in integrating women, younger people and older people into the labour market in order to attain the target. Otherwise, employment will only reach 72% by 2020 (based on current trends).

Poverty has also increased from 114 million in 2009 to 124 million in 2012. However, the Commission does not emphasise any solution for this development, besides the need of designing effective social protection systems. The Commission did not point out different poverty levels for different age groups.

The communication announces a public consultation on the way forward after 2015. The consultation will take place later this year. AGE Platform will ensure its presence and push for the realisation of ambitious targets and an implementation that effectively address the needs of unemployed older people and those living in poverty.

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