Urgency from ESPCO on need to address long-term unemployment and poverty

23 Jun 2014

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) met last week (June 19) to discuss the upcoming European Council with debates focused on the social dimension of the EU and EMU. Representatives from the EU’s 28 Member States contributed to the debate offering positions on an EU framework for minimum income and minimum wages, with positions varying considerably.

Urgency from ESPCO on need to address long-term unemployment and poverty

Greek Minister for Employment Ioannis Vroutsis (pictured left), who chaired the EPSCO Council under the Greek presidency, opened with some sobering and realistic comments on the EU’s economic and social progress: inequality, long term employment, poverty and social inclusion have all increased. These are the trends shown by the recently-introduced social scoreboard which now forms part of the European Semester.

The outgoing Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, László Andor, did not brighten the mood of the Council. Referring to the targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the EU’s growth strategy due to be reviewed later this year, Commissioner Andor said that it would be “impossible to meet the Strategy’s employment and poverty reduction targets on time”.

In the backdrop of the European elections, the Council’s chair Mr Vroutsis lightened the mood by saying that the European Parliament election results demonstrated that public opinion was not against a stronger social aspect to the EU, and that citizens would be in favour of more concrete actions to improve their daily lives.

Member State representatives’ tour de table on the social dimension debate revealed some large differences in opinion on the extent to which social policy, in particular minimum income schemes and minimum wage frameworks, should be conceived at EU level.

Belgium for example called on the need for minimum wages to be indexed to the poverty threshold so that these key Europe 2020 issues can be tackled in a meaningful way. On the other hand, Finland and the Czech Republic for example saw the national level as the best place to design minimum wage schemes.

Most countries agreed that the Social Protection Committee, the EU advisory policy committee which led the debate, should focus on the exchange of best practices.

CESI is in favour of a European framework for a minimum wage which respects the need for negotiations, discussion and agreements to be concluded at the national level. These negotiations, discussions and agreements should include all workers’ representatives.

CESI will  submit a contribution the European Commission’s consultation on the Europe 2020 Strategy.