Annual Convention of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion: speeches by Herman van Rompuy, Isabelle Durant, Vice-President of the EP, and Sotiroula Charalambous, Cypriot Minister for Labour and Social Insurance
Type: Complete speech
End production: 05/12/2012 First transmission: 05/12/2012
On 5 December 2012, Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, Isabelle Durant, Vice-President of the EP, Sotiroula Charalambous, Cypriot Minister for Labour and Social Insurance, and László Andor, Member of the EC in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, gave an opening speech at the Second Annual Convention of the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, held in Brussels.
The European Platform against poverty and social exclusion sets out actions to reach the EU target of reducing poverty and social exclusion by at least 20 million by 2020. Launched in 2010, the platform is part of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Only the original language version is authentic and it prevails in the event of its differing from the translated versions.
||Arrival of Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, to the second Platform against poverty and social exclusion, in Brussels
||Soundbite by Herman van Rompuy (in ENGLISH): I am pleased to speak at this second Platform against poverty and social exclusion. In these difficult times, it is important that we jointly continue to show solidarity to the most vulnerable. Solidarity, but also concrete actions. I am pleased to hear that most of the actions planned for 2011 and 2012 under the Poverty Platform have been delivered. Let’ think about the Council Recommendation on early school leaving, the Agenda on Integration and the Framework for the National Roma Strategies.
Being poor is not only about a lack of financial means to have a decent life. It is about human dignity. It also affects one’s possibility to take part in society. It often leads to a spiral of social isolation and loneliness.
The Union has always been very committed to the fight against poverty. Internationally and in our own Union. We remain the largest donor of official development aid in the world and we have projects across the world. We have spent over 7 billion euro for climate finance in developing countries over the past 3 years, one third of the global commitment. In international for such as the G20 or recently at the sustainable development Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the Union actively promotes the further eradication of poverty in the world. This shows that Europe is a project of solidarity and humanity.
Ladies and gentlemen, In the Union, the rising level of poverty is more than a main concern. It gives us a bad conscience. It is often hidden, but hits millions of Europeans. We should not accept this. In Europe, we should lift at least 20 million people out of poverty by 2020. That is the headline goal for the Union and Member States set national targets in order to get there. I personally invested to have this important target in our strategy. It means that the economic growth which we pursue should be inclusive, beneficial to all Europeans.
We have to admit we are not on track today. This is why in October, the European Council has urged the Member States to step up efforts, to take measures that alleviate the social impact of the crisis
The Employment report presented by the European Commission last week shows that although in some countries, including Austria, Portugal, Poland and Romania, the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion decreased between 2008 and 2011, the increase in 13 countries outweighs and is appealing.
The report also shows us that there are significant differences among Member States in the efficiency of their spending on anti-poverty policies, such as benefit or tax measures. The poverty reduction effect per unit of spending varies considerably, when patterns of spending and structures in social protection provisions are similar. Some countries manage to reduce poverty rates among children with less spending than others for example. This suggests that some systems are more efficient than others. It also shows that there is room to make further progress.
Ladies and gentlemen, Employment should be the most effective way to keep people out of poverty. A job does not only give you an income, but also contacts and friends. It keeps people away from the vicious circle of poverty and social exclusion. Unfortunately, employment is not always a guarantee not to become poor. Over 8 % of employed people in the Union are at risk of poverty, even in the Member States which are better off. That is why it is essential to take into account national specificities when tackling poverty.
Since the start of the economic and financial crisis in 2008, 5 million jobs were lost, of which 4 million in the euro area. The overall unemployment rate of the EU is currently at 10.6% and 11.6% in the euro area and exceeded for the first time ever 25 million people.
A more positive feature is that the employment rate of older workers increased between 2008 and 2011. Also for women, we see that the employment rate stayed virtually at the same level, whether it declined for men. Woman, especially single with children, are a vulnerable group, even independent of the crisis.
Yet, young people are hit the hardest. More than 20% of young people are unemployed, in two Member States it has even climbed over 50%. The report clearly confirms the importance of education. Early school leavers are the most vulnerable sub-group. More than half of young "drop outs" are unemployed. It is positive that the share of early school leavers decreased from 14.1% in 2010 to 13.5% in 2011, but the figures remain too high.
The European Council has put Growth and Jobs on top of the agenda since February 2010. A return of financial stability in the eurozone means a return to growth and jobs. We have made considerable progress the last months. But it takes time before confidence itself is coming back by consumer and companies. The Member States have taken difficult decisions over the past years and months. Most of the Member States have been fairly successful in mitigating the impact of the crisis on households and individuals. Yet, many Europeans do important sacrifices and are confronted with tighter social conditions.
We should focus on the most vulnerable and moderate the social consequences where possible. The strongest shoulders have to carry the heaviest burden. The focus on the five measurable key targets under the Europe 2020 Strategy remains relevant in the midst of a policy of fiscal consolidation. Expenditures for employment or education and the reduction of social exclusion should be sheltered as much as possible.
We need growth and employment to keep the European social model alive. I know that this might sound difficult to accept, especially now, by those who are directly confronted with lower salaries for example. We are convinced that these sacrifices, how difficult they now are, will not be done in vain. Reforms take time, but they will result.
Ladies and gentlemen, Currently, we are preparing the European Semester 2013. It gives us the possibility to introduce improvements. We need to put more emphasis on guidance and implementation. We also want to strengthen the dialogue, with the European Parliament, the national parliaments and social partners. The European Commission has already submitted its Annual Growth Survey. It should be the starting point for a improved European Semester, which should also allow a better monitoring of the important social targets.
A lot of efforts are to be done by the Member States. The bulk of responsibilities lies there. But we should also use all the EU instruments we have. The Social Investment Package announced by Commissioner Andor can be a very important step. You will be discussing this package in depth today.
Also our future Multi-Annual Financial Framework should reflect our search for inclusive growth. The European Social Fund remains a major tool to keep people in employment. I am glad that a solution has been found to continue EU food aid to the most deprived persons, after the existential discussions of the last years. The proposal which the European Commission presented in October is a very important step. The Commission proposes to extend the support to clothing and other essentials for homeless people and to introduce a mechanism of co-financing. The EU part is to be decided in the framework of the overall MFF agreement. I hope that we will find agreement on a budget that will help many poor people.
Homeless people are among the most vulnerable. In the European Semester, 12 Member States referred to homelessness as an urgent social priority in their National Reform Programs. We need to reflect about the right solutions.
Our social model is deficient as long as poverty exists and as long we did not everything that is possible to prevent this.
Ladies and gentlemen, In 3 weeks time, we will be celebrating Christmas. It is a moment to reflect about the importance of a warm society. The European project is based on values as solidarity and togetherness. We are only together in a world, in a country, in a Union without poor people. Thank you.
||Soundbite by László Andor, Member of the EC in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, (in ENGLISH) inviting Isabelle Durant, Vice-President of the EP, to take the floor
||Soundbite by Isabelle Durant (in FRENCH) saying that numbers are quite shocking; 120 million people affected by poverty, precarious situation, it represents one quarter of Europeans, 42 million people in extreme poverty.
These figures are staggering and couldn't be imagined 20 years ago, let alone in one of the richest regions of the world.
Figures reducing a little more the hope to achieve the goal of the 2020 Strategy to go out, by 2020, 20 million people out of poverty. Even if some steps go in this direction, it is like swimming against the tide of completely direct and indirect effects of the crisis.
Poverty and insecurity did not start in 2008. These situations are the result of systems, reproductions, vicious circles mixing causes and distinct circumstances, according to groups, people and specific situations.
However, it is obvious that if the crisis as such has worsened the situation, some solutions to the crisis are also responsible for dramatic situations and endanger entire populations in some countries than elsewhere. In some areas, it is an entire generation of young Europeans who are unable to lay the foundations of their professional lives and their future projects.
So this agreement is needed, both good dose of modesty and lucidity, respect and support local and regional actors in the field, and a lot of voluntarism for both emergency remedies for remedies and structural reforms. Poverty and exclusion take very different forms, and she willI begin to dwell in material forms and proposals to make the PE response as soon as possible.
In this race against time, it is obvious that it is necessary to act for those who are most at risk. In this regard, if the assistance program for the poor is temporarily maintained this winter and probably the next, the ongoing battle for the 2014-2020 budget is now. Applications and figures are known. It is clear that the $ 2.5 billion for the 7 years are completely short of what is required to ensure simple respect for human dignity.
The European Parliament has also called and still calls for a minimum income at European level, solid foundation essential for every citizen.
Poverty also has an age, ages, stages of life; children, young people starting trouble in adulthood, pensioners, therefore, an increasing proportion of population living under the poverty line.
Poverty also recruited in groups, migrants, people with disabilities, minorities.
But poverty is not only physical, financial. It is also immaterial. People in poverty need as much money as respect, dignity, empowerment, recognition, social usefulness.
All this imposes a duty on various serious and urgent plans. That of policy coordination between levels of government and stakeholders, social associations, trade union, political, within the framework of shared competences. Common instruments, exchanges of experience, can be developed during those 3 days.
It also imposes structural reforms on economic restructuring, job creation, the fight against discrimination. The European Parliament, in the exercise of its powers, will continue to work to guide these policies.
The fight against poverty will be won also with measures and instruments more demanding. Could the European Semester and the National Reform Programme be accompanied by a golden rule, the golden rule anti-poverty targets with mandatory measures, controls and sanctions? There is not that the budgets for which debt should be reduced. Debt and imposes intolerable social policy at least as stringent as budgetary matters.
||Soundbite by László Andor (in ENGLISH) thanking Isabelle Durant for her speech and inviting to Sotiroula Charalambous, Cypriot Minister for Labour and Social Insurance, take the floor
||Soundbite by Sotiroula Charalambous (in ENGLISH): Mr. President of the European Council, Mr. President of the European Commission, Honorable Members of the European Parliament, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen, First of all, I would like to convey the greetings of the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Demetris Christofias, and express his regret that he was unable to accept the invitation to participate in the opening session of this important Convention.
The President has asked me to read his address on his behalf.
The Second Convention of the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion is taking place at a critical time - five years into the crisis. A crisis that started as a financial crisis and soon evolved into an economic crisis, an employment crisis and a social crisis, affecting the quality of life of millions of European citizens.
It is true that the European project has gone through many crises since its establishment. It seems however, that the ongoing socio-economic crisis, largely deriving from the global economic crisis, is the greatest challenge that the European Union has ever faced. This is because the Union’s prosperity and social cohesion have been significantly threatened. The strict austerity policies implemented to address the crisis, are not simply proving incapable of resolving the problems, but have exacerbated them. Austerity policies alone lead to the dismantlement of the welfare state and strangle growth. The economy and sustainable development should serve society. The resulting wealth should be shared more equitably. The chosen approach cannot be "socializing losses and privatizing profits." We cannot through our policies put the weight of the current crisis on the shoulders of those who barely earn a living. Ordinary citizens of European Union Member States are the last to blame for the inherent weaknesses of the Economic and Monetary Union. In any event, we have a moral and political obligation to apportion the burden of the crisis equitably and, most certainly, protect the financially and socially vulnerable groups.
Allow me to express my deep shock each time images of people waiting in queues at the shelters in Europe for a portion of food are shown on TV. And how frequently such images are shown! It is offensive at the very least, for any of us, to tolerate such a situation. We cannot stand idly by while a large section of the European population is led to social exclusion and reduced to poverty. It is imperative thus, to continue our work on the new proposed Regulation for the EU Fund for the most deprived, and achieve a rapid agreement. In this regard, I would like to commend the Commission and President Barroso for their commitment and efforts.
Ladies and Gentlemen, In times of economic recession and the imposition of austerity measures, it is particularly important to develop an adaptable, dynamic and modern social flank of the EU, which will moderate changes in our societies and economies and enhance social cohesion. Social protection and social services must be regarded as useful economic stabilizers and their efficiency and effectiveness must be strengthened.
Let me underline that we have worked hard at the Council to improve the way the European Union manages the crisis. Recognizing the importance of consolidation of public finances, structural reforms and targeted investments for sustainable development, the European Council agreed, in June 2012, on a “Compact for Growth and Employment”. In this context, Member States are called upon to engage in differentiated and growth-friendly fiscal policies for the future, to promote development and competitiveness, to fight unemployment and to effectively address the social impact of the crisis.
This approach is fully in line with the Cyprus Presidency’s overarching priority to work towards a “Better Europe”, giving emphasis to promoting growth and job creation, in parallel with solidarity and social cohesion. These aims are particularly relevant in view of the economic crisis. Without placing emphasis on both growth and combating poverty, we will not achieve the goal of a competitive Europe of innovation, a Europe of solidarity and cohesion, a Europe for all.
The success of the Europe 2020 Strategy depends on an integrated and coherent approach between all relevant policy areas: social, employment and economic policies. However, the goal to reduce poverty by 2020, which was set as a quantified target of at least 20 million people, seems grim nowadays. Member States have to manage difficult but at the same time important challenges. One of these challenges is to preserve the momentum gained throughout the years in the field of social policy. We believe a message of commitment for promoting strong social policy is an important social investment in itself.
The Commission’s Communication on the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion brought commitment. The announcement of an Annual Convention providing opportunities to all relevant actors to review the state-of-play with regard to the poverty target, to share experiences and inspire future actions brought a vision.
The forthcoming Social Package of the European Commission, in conjunction with other actions announced in the 2013 Commission’s Work Programme, can bring the necessary concrete actions that will facilitate inclusive growth.
We strongly believe that the success of the Europe 2020 Strategy depends on the active involvement of all sections of society. This is why a key priority of the Cyprus Presidency is the strengthening of the participatory processes and the involvement of NGOs, local authorities and the social partners in the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy, especially as regards the employment and poverty targets.
Civil society must work in partnership with governments in order to conceptualize and implement successful reforms that deal effectively with the social consequences of the crisis. This is why I fully support the initiative to provide, through this Convention, a forum for consultation on the forthcoming Social Investment Package of the European Commission.
In closing, I would like to wish all participants of this important Convention, fruitful deliberations and look forward to receiving information about the outcome, which will be fed into the forthcoming Social Investment Package.