European Social Conference. Alliances to fight poverty

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The EU2020 strategy set the ambitious target of reducing 20 millions of persons living in poverty, but it is hard to find how the actions taken at national level will make it real. On top of that, the austerity measures adopted in several countries against the crisis created side effects further exacerbating the situation of people living in poverty and other vulnerable groups.


The Christian Workers movement in
Wallonia, (MOC) and the Flemish sister organisation ACW undertook already in 2010 a broad process of consultation and reflection on the European policies against poverty with organised civil society and 

social partners. This long process resulted in a two-day Conference on 19 and 20 September 2011 in Brussels with the purpose to put across concrete messages and influence the next European political semester.

The first day of the conference on 19th September centred on the analysis of the first European semester and of the situation in different countries, while the second day focused on strategies for a more social Europe. 

On 19th September four workshops were organised to give an insight of the



Different national cases such as the one of
Denmark, France, Poland, Italy were put into context. national reform programmes implementing the EU2020 in different EU countries.

 

Looking in general at the participation of CSOs in the NRP process, it has been very poor. This was mainly a ministerial process. In addition to that short time was given to react when the NRP was out.

Ole Meeldgard from EAPN depicted the main features of the NRP in Denmark. Among the objectives Denmark set in its NRP there is the intention of being one of 10 richest, most innovative and efficient country in the EU, of raising by 40% the number of people with tertiary education and reducing the number of people in household with low work intensity.

She pointed important key challenges ahead: strengthening  growth prospects  and labour supply, stabilise the financial situation and reduce the influence of external shocks and find solutions to demographic challenges ( ageing society, sustainability of public finances etc…).

Chantal Richard (CFDT) said that France set already back in 2007 the objective of reducing poverty by 2/3 focusing on homeless and vulnerable groups.

The French system of support to the persons living in poverty or at risk of poverty is centred on the solidarity revenue. It consist in a financial support alongside an activity pillar to help people to get back into work. Families and individuals can have access to the solidarity revenues.

However, some problems are associated with this system: it is not well known by everybody in France, the administrative burden of compiling the file for it is still too high. She said that CFDT together other networks warned the government on the need of better communicating how to access it and to give more possibilities to people to express themselves.

When it comes to Poland, it is the only country which avoided recession but at severe social effects. In 2010 the GDP increased by 3.8% while the future estimation is an increase by 3.5%. In the education field, the number of people in secondary education is growing and the trend is constantly increasing. Schools drop out are very low.

However, these positive trends are offset by negative aspects: the scarce availability of important services as pre-child care and the increasing number of unemployed. In several cases, the cause of unemployment is the expiry of fixed term contracts. It reveals that the concept of flexicurity has been applied in Poland but in a distorted way.

Only flexibility has been strengthened while the security aspect has been neglected. In the NRP of Poland there is no mention on measures for poors, unemployment and social dialogue.

All these national cases and many others discussed at the Conference pointed to the need for civil society to mobilise to put social issues on the political agenda. 

Fintan Farrell, President of EAPN, claimed that if we want a social Europe we cannot be absent from the economic discussion. The growth model should be challenged because it has so far proved to be inadequate and, all the more, the cause of increasing inequalities.

The EU has achieved a lot but the treaties seem to be imbalanced in favour of liberal model. It is important to reverse the trend introducing reforms such as the creation of adequate minimum income , taxes on incomes and on financial speculation. He said that the EU2020 strategy which is implemented through the NRPs at national level is a key moment for the engagement and mobilisation of both civil society organisations and social partners.

Patrick De Bucquois, CEDAG President, recalled that the Lisbon treaty introduced important innovations in terms of dialogue between Institutions and civil society, referring to art.11  which acknowledges the right of civil society to be involved .

The article is made of four parts. The fourth section on the European citizens initiative has received a lot of attention by Institutions. However, he underlined, participation of citizens gathered in associations deserves the same attention and importance.

Civil society organisations can organise strong mobilisation in favour of a better social agenda. In doing so, they have the interest of forming wide alliances with trade unions and to find common objectives and to make progress our social model.