“The situation remains dire”

3 Jun 2014, keywords : ,

These were the words uttered by László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion in his presentation of the 2014 Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), the annual advice issued to EU countries on economic and social policy. The CSRs are part of the wider framework of the European Semester, which sees the coordination of economic policies and budgetary surveillance of Member States.

“The situation remains dire”

With unemployment reaching 26 million and nearly 25% EU citizens at risk of poverty, the term dire is justified. Particularly alarming is that 6.6 more million people are at risk of poverty and social exclusion than in 2008, despite poverty being a key objective in Europe’s 2020 strategy. These figures justify the need for the employment and social scoreboard to inform the recommendations, this being the first year it has been applied.

The Commission underlines a number of key areas for focus in 2014: tackling long term unemployment, encouraging sustainable quality jobs, wage-setting systems and increasing women’s participation in the labour market and improving social safety nets.

With half of unemployed people without a job for over a year, long-term unemployment is fast becoming a pressing issue in Europe. The lasting damaging effects of long-term unemployment on an individual’s life mean the Commission wants to see more focus on improving public employment services to help people back into work.

Jobs are not enough though. The Commission wants to see less precarious work and less part time work, which is why it is recommending quality jobs to be offered, in particular in the case of Spain.

More commitment to maintaining jobs needs to be shown from Member States, part of this means reducing the tax burden on labour and shifting it to other so-called less distorive taxes such as consumption, pollution and property taxes.

The crisis has hit participation rates in the labour market hard, but none more so than women. Austria, Italy, Ireland and Poland have been highlighted as countries in which women’s participation is particularly low. Germany, singled out for the second year running, is being strongly encouraged to make it easier for women to work, by removing fiscal obstacles and by improving childcare both in terms of cost and quality.

Keeping in line with the EU’s current discourse on the social situation, youth policies receive a special mention. More needs to be done in the education to work transition for young people according to the assessment of implementation plans on the Youth Guarantee.

In its own self-assessment, the Commission sees the EU moving firmly towards the exit of the crisis. Although from what we have seen in terms of jobs and growth, in exiting the crisis deep social issues remain or are getting worse. Areas such as public employment services or reducing poverty require significant investment, difficult to do when spending cuts and austerity have been the over-arching legacy of this Commission.

To read more about the Country Specific Recommendations, and to view them by country in your own language, please follow this link.The recommendations will now be discussed by the EU’s leaders in its June summit, with a view to being formally adopted by Finance Ministers on 8 July. The recommendations are not binding, but should feed into national government’s spending plans over the next year.

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From left to right, László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro and Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner responsible for Taxation and Customs Union, Statistics, Audit and Anti-fraud