Brussels, 10 October 2014
Poverty: conclusions of the conference 'The Europe 2020 poverty target - Lessons Learned and the Way Forward'
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, 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.
In his concluding address, László Andor said: "Setting the poverty and social exclusion target as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy was a landmark political decision, which put on equal footing social and economic objectives and recognised the interrelationship between them. By having a joint quantified social objective, the EU Member States sought to achieve greater accountability towards its achievement". He also said: "Poverty harms social cohesion and growth because it is a waste of human capital, a strain on the public purse, and it means the EU economy does not function as well as it could. Tackling poverty challenges is also largely a matter of taxation policy, health policy, employment policy, education policy, and overall economic policy. It is important to acknowledge these inter-dependencies and work towards inclusive growth".
The President of the Republic of Malta, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, said during her keynote speech: "Growing poverty in Europe is deeply worrying, so we need to step up our efforts. Social policies alone are not enough to address poverty, as it is a complex phenomenon driven by social as well as economic and political factors".
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, and drew the following conclusions:
-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 will be available at the conference website shortly.
In 2010, as part of the Europe 2020 strategy , Member States agreed on the target to have at least 20 million fewer people in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion by 2020, which corresponds to a decrease from 116.4 million to 96.4 million people at risk of poverty and social exclusion over the decade. Instead, latest data shows that Europe is drifting away from the target. Since the adoption of the strategy, 7.8 million more people are living in poverty or social exclusion across Europe.
When the 2020 strategy was launched in 2010, a mid-term review was set for 2015. To gather the views of the Member States, citizens and relevant stakeholders, the Commission launched a public consultation , inviting comments by 31 October 2014. The findings of the conference and the results of the public consultation will feed into this mid-term review.