Escaping the crisis: the role of social policies in Europe
Almost a quarter of the EU population finds itself at risk of poverty and social exclusion, according to a recent report from the European Social Protection Committee; and youth exclusion is a new social challenge.
The fact that the Social Protection Committee plays a consultative role is little known to the general public. Article 160 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU tasks it with monitoring the social situation in the EU and facilitating discussion and information exchange between the national authorities responsible for social protection and the European Commission. Composed of two representatives of each Member State and of the Commission, the Committee issues all the thematic reports on topics such as child poverty and pension adequacy, as well as an annual report.
The conclusions of the report entitled “Social policy reforms for growth and cohesion: review of recent structural reforms 2013” adopted by the EU on 15 October this year, were fed into the annual growth survey used by the Commission on 15 November to stimulate the fourth period of the European Semester procedure. The European Semester is a tool set up in the aftermath of the euro crisis to help coordinate economic policies.
The four major chapters of the Committee’s report highlight the impact of structural reforms on the four countries now under economic adjustment programmes, discuss poverty reduction reforms in all EU countries, and also reforms in the domains of pensions and healthcare.
The report informs us that the percentage of persons at risk of poverty in Ireland rose only from 14.4% to 16% between 2008 and 2011. Such a modest rise may seem surprising but is explained by the dramatic fall in the income threshold (from €10,901 in 2008 to €9,352 in 2010), below which we define such people as at risk of poverty. Pension reforms undertaken as part of the adjustment programme that Greece signed up to in May 2010 resulted in a fall in levels, especially for those receiving the highest pensions, and a rise in the pensionable age as from 2013. This measure enabled the country to maintain its expenditure on pensions below the 12% mark.
In the second chapter on reforms in the fields of social inclusion and poverty reduction, we find that “In 2011, there were “4 million more people at risk of poverty or social exclusion.” Almost all countries boosted their efforts to help people find jobs. The report goes on to describe reforms undertaken in a number of countries (Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Latvia and Sweden) to focus social support on children in order to eliminate the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Finally, a surprisingly small number of countries have introduced new measures to integrate the Roma community (Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia).
The third chapter on pensions analyses government measures relating to early retirement, the statutory retirement age, contribution periods and pension levels. With a few exceptions, almost all Member States are moving towards a statutory retirement age of 65 to 67 between 2020 and 2030.
In its recommendations, the Social Protection Committee highlights the fact that, under budgetary and economic pressure, all EU Member States have undertaken unprecedented reforms of their social protection systems. For this reason it stressed that the annual growth survey 2014 should give much greater recognition to the role of social protection in shielding citizens against economic risks throughout their lives. One way of doing this would be to implement a “scoreboard of key social and employment indicators” as promised by the European Commission in its most recent Communication on the social dimension of the economic and monetary union.
Translated from the original text in French
Information on the mandate, composition and reports of the Social Protection Committee can be found at the following web address: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=758&langId=en