European Semester: Parliament and Council push for a more social approach

The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have been drafting their reports on the Annual Growth Survey, starting stone for the 2015 European Semester. While both institutions support President Juncker’s priorities: investment, structural reforms and growth-friendly, fiscal consolidation – both are reminding the social objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy and push to better include them in this year’s Semester. Putting a greater emphasis on gender gaps is among common requests.

Europe 2020 goals still lagging behind

The Parliament points out that the reforms of the last years did not succeed to create investment and growth and regrets the negative impact of the cuts in social transfers on the increase of inequality, poverty and long-term unemployment. The latter two are precisely the Europe 2020 Strategy’s targets for which member states are most lagging behind the initial engagement.

The Parliament recognises older workers as the population group which is most likely to be long-term unemployed and that older people are more vulnerable to the effects of reduced social expenditure. The EP focuses in particular on the specific sub groups most at risk of poverty, such as older women, people over 80, older migrants or older Roma.

Both the Parliament and the Council focus on the gender differences in employment and risk of poverty. The Parliaments calls for an explicit gender pillar to be integrated into the review of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

Regarding pension reforms, the Parliament highlights the need to develop employment opportunities for older workers for pension reforms to succeed. It also calls for limiting early retirement schemes, compensating for time spent on caring and for tax incentives in favour of longer working lives.

The lack of proposals on reducing poverty in the Annual Growth Survey (AGS) has not been mentioned by the Parliament nor the Council, all while both point out the high levels of poverty. The Parliament explicitly welcomes President Juncker’s appeal to introduce minimum income schemes in all member states.

Health is another key topic covered by this year’s parliamentary report on the AGS, as the Committee on Public Health has also included a statement. The Parliament calls for investing in healthy ageing at the workplace and in public health initiatives, and reminds to ensure universally accessible and affordable high-quality health care by investing in health infrastructure.

Investment Plan: include social investment!

While the Parliament and the Council welcome the proposed Investment Plan for Europe, both highlight the relevance of the 2013 Social Investment Package in supporting social dimension. The Parliament states that investments from the Juncker’s plan should not only generate financial returns, but positive social spillovers.

Finally, the Parliament highlights at several points the need to invest in human capital and skills, especially on life-long learning and focuses on social spending as investments with a positive impact.

Structural reforms, but towards more inclusiveness

Both Parliament and Council emphasise social inclusion and the fight against poverty to be part of structural reforms. For the Council, active labour market policies should be linked to social protection to avoid loss of human capital. Both institutions highlight the need to work on long-term unemployment, which is peaking at the moment. The Parliament calls for anti-discrimination policies and specific policies for older unemployed.

To promote the reduction of gender pension and gender pay gaps, the two institutions call for the promotion of working time arrangements, more child care facilities and the reduction of tax disincentives to work.

In modernising health care systems, a strong call was made by the parliament to maintain effectiveness, equitability, accessibility and adequacy. Also, while the simplification of regulations for companies has been welcomed by the Parliament, it warned against lowering the protection standards for health and safety of employees.

Fiscal consolidation while maintaining effective social policies

While fiscal consolidation is supported both by the Parliament and by the Council, it has been highlighted by the two institutions that the inclusiveness and fairness of social protection should not be lowered. Social policy objectives, and most importantly the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, should be better included into the European Semester.

These statements are extracted from three reports:

For more information, please contact Philippe Seidel from the AGE Secretariat:

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