Speaking at the high-level conference on ‘The Europe 2020 poverty target: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward’, László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, urged Member States to improve their social welfare systems, set more ambitious targets to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion and ensure those targets can be reached.
The conference took place in Brussels on 9 October 2014, and gathered over 200 stakeholders from EU countries, including high-level policy makers, social partners, civil society, academics, social entrepreneurs and key actors in the EU institutions.
Participants reflected on the lessons learned four years after the adoption of the Europe 2020 Strategy, when Member States committed to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 20 million by 2020. They also discussed future policy priorities at European and country level in view of better delivering on the poverty target.
Participants stressed the role of the economic crisis in exacerbating social pressures such as poverty and inequality, which were already major issues before the crisis. Findings show that Member States that reformed their social welfare systems before the crisis are experiencing better social outcomes now. Furthermore, participants highlighted that the low level of ambition of Member States, who hold the primary competence to reduce poverty, is a matter of concern. A number of Member States called to set more ambitious targets so as to match the EU-level objective of 20 million taking also into account the gender dimension.
It is essential to improve social monitoring at European Union level and to better assess the performance of social policies. Participants noted that, currently, monitoring of social developments at EU level does not have any benchmarking of performance, thresholds or ‘preventive’ alert mechanisms. They called for strengthening EU-level monitoring tools to detect negative social developments earlier and signal extreme social divergences, and argued that social indicators should become part of the overall governance structures.
Participants noted the low visibility at local and regional level of the Europe 2020 Strategy. They asked for deeper and more structured involvement of stakeholders at country level, for instance when discussing the National Reform Programme.
Ministers from Luxembourg, Poland and Malta called for a better balance between macroeconomic, fiscal, employment and social objectives at EU level, in line with the integrated nature of the Europe 2020 Strategy. They emphasised the importance of investing early in children and youth, as well as policies to develop skills to improve employability. Participants highlighted that the focus has very much been on addressing the consequences the crisis, but that this focus should shift towards implementing structural reforms.
The Italian Presidency stressed the need for a new impetus for poverty reduction and called for the reinforcement of the social pillar of the European Semester. They underlined that the modernisation of welfare systems is crucial to delivering on the target, and they urged that Member States effectively implement the Commission’s 2013 Social Investment Package.
A final conference report with summaries of the presentations and key conclusions is available.