THESE ARE CHALLENGING TIMES (José Manuel Durão Barroso)

THESE ARE CHALLENGING TIMES (José Manuel Durão Barroso)

There is a commitment at the European Union level to take 20 million people out of poverty by 2020. Some governments argue that this is something that should be done at the national level, not at the European one. Anyhow, we were able to set the target and this was in itself a progress. The fight against poverty is now a common European goal.

But we know that, despite this fact, the overall number of the poor has actually reached 7.5 millions. And this, of course, concerns me deeply. What is the point of a target we cannot reach, you may ask. I believe we need some estimation to measure poverty across the UE. I also believe it is important to have social goals in the design of policies. Our social Investment Package presented by the Commission in 2013 offers Member States policy guidance and stability as concerns social funds. There is a pressing need for effective social investment policies, to improve people skills and capacities to help them to actively participate in the labour market and in society at large. This means that we need to deliver a strategic, integrated, and preventive approach. This also means more effective and efficient social protection policies.

The social investment package also analyses the need for a better understanding of interrelated policies and for closer coordination at the European and national levels. Social policies may contribute to stop codependency but of course they cannot solve all social problems by themselves. To tackle poverty is a huge task that needs the involvement of other policies such as taxation, housing, education, employment, economic policies.

To boost the social dimension in the European Union, the Commission has introduced a scoreboard of key employment and social indicators to help identify and monitor possible diversions within the European Union. Now, Europeans have mastered the process and are turning their attention to poverty and social exclusion.

As you know, the number of recommendations we have sent to the governments of our Member States to induce them to face these challenges has indeed increased. And let me give you an example: in 2014, many country-specific recommendations focused on benefits, coverage, the combination of new and innovative measurements, effective social transfers, quality care services, and access to healthcare.

In addition to this, the European Union also provides funding to fight against homelessness. The European Regional Development Fund co-finances investments in social housing, and the European Social Fund provides for considerable funds for the integration of vulnerable groups into the social and labour markets. This could be people facing extreme poverty and social exclusion such as ethnic minorities, migrants, disabled people, long-term unemployed and the homeless as well.

Our goal is that Member States allocate resources to the priorities they have identified. From 2007 to 2013, 10 billion Euros of the European Social Fund resources were spent on promoting the social inclusion of the most vulnerable, including the homeless.

Until 2020, at least 20% of the 80 billion Euros of the Social Fund resources will be used to reduce poverty and social exclusion. And special funds have been set aside to promote youth employment. The 2.5 billion Euros of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will help provide people in extreme poverty with food and basic goods. And let me stress that my Commission defends very, very, strongly these Funds. I am convinced that they both provide immediate assistance and help prevent homelessness, by helping individuals and households to avoid eviction. Member States can channel these specific Funds to homeless people or to identify the most deprived.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are challenging times. We need to join efforts and build a truly inclusive Europe making sure that no one is left out. To do this, we need to revitalize the partnership, also by including new players: the European Union, national, regional and local policy-makers, and the civil society must work together to implement effective social investment policies.

I want to thank you for your work in reaching out to the most vulnerable people. I wish you every success in working with the new Commission and promise you we will be right behind you. I thank you.

 

This is an excerpt from the opening speech by José Manuel Durão Barroso (Lisbon, March 23, 1956) who has been for the past ten years the President of the European Commission, made at the Conference of FEANTSA (European Federation of Organizations working with the homeless) held in Bergamo (Italy) on October 24 and 25, 2014, with the participation of a numerous delegation of Latin American countries, invited by the Eurosocial Programme (Unofficial translation carried out by the editorial department of Reciprocamente.net).