SOLIDAR Weekly Round Up 18-09-2015
The European Parliament made a difference again this week. I am not thinking of those populist and hate speeches that the EP has to endure, but the decision taken on Thursday to relocate the 120,000 migrants and refugees as proposed by Commission President Juncker last week. It has become a popular sport to blame Europe and the European institutions in particular, but this time the blaming and shaming goes to some EU Member States who happily enjoy the benefits of being part of the club, but apparently do not want to contribute to the burden sharing.
Some have introduced the idea of conditionality into the debate, between sharing the burden and getting EU structural funds. This idea seems attractive but it is not feasible and could become counter-productive. Unfortunately democracy sometimes produces results which give its enemies legitimacy through election. And in those countries where these forces are becoming stronger and stronger the problem is that conditionality will be grist to their mill, because they will use precisely this as a reason for withdrawing from the Union.
What is the answer? European history from 80 years ago may tell us that democracy failed because the democrats were not united, because the left and progressive forces were not united, that people turned away from democracy because democracy did not deliver social protection, decent work or decent incomes. History may not repeat itself, but the schemes can reappear. The good news is that the democrats in the EP have the majority, that they are about to agree on the work programme of the Commission and that they have understood the urgency of the situation.
There also appears to be a growing common understanding that the European project needs a real social pillar and that this pillar shall be more than just the icing on the cake. And lastly, if democracy is under threat, if not only citizens and voters, but also some parts of the so-called elites turn away from the project, what better than investing in real civil dialogue to rebuild trust and confidence in the capacity of the EU to find solutions? This is the sense of our advocacy: we have ideas and proposals for both the form and the content: next step a real European social agenda 2.0!
Together for Social Europe
Austerity pressure on social policies and services continues
18 September 2015
A one-sided focus on austerity policies continues to feed the downward pressure on social policies and services in EU Member States, according to the upcoming report of SOLIDAR’s 2015 Social Progress Watch Initiative (SPWI). The members of our pan-European network of NGOs use this tool to monitor and analyse the social dimension of national policies within the framework of the European Semester. This year’s findings illustrate the tangible connection between austerity policies and the erosion of social safeguards in the European social model.
The country studies of the 2015 SPWI highlight the negative impact of European austerity measures on access to and the quality of health and social services. Rather than investing in these services as a prerequisite for upward social convergence and inclusive economic growth, the Country-Specific Recommendations of the 2014 European Semester evaluate them from a budgetary and fiscal perspective, i.e. urging EU Member States to increase the cost-effectiveness of their health and social services.
SOLIDAR EU Strategy Groups in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom report a one-sided focus on the cost-effectiveness of health and social services. In each of these countries, our Strategy Groups report that this one-sided policy focus creates a downward pressure on access to and the quality of these services, thereby straining the capacity of the latter to act as social safeguards in times of crisis.
New SOLIDAR booklet ’Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): flaws and fallacies uncovered’
15 September 2015
After more than two years of negotiations, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) still remains a mystery to most European and US citizens. The lack of transparency in negotiations and of any communication strategy with the wider public have led to strong opposition against this agreement by civil society organisations, progressive political forces as well as small and medium-sized businesses and trade unions. The more details are revealed in the form of leaked documents, the more favourable the deal seems to be for big corporations and financial investors – at the cost of social cohesion, equality and economic prosperity for 99% of citizens in the US and the EU.
SOLIDAR, with support of the US-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is publishing today – on the occasion of a high-level hearing on TTIP organised by the Danish think tank CEVEA in the Danish Parliament – a booklet with contributions by Robert Kuttner, the American Prospect, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark, Pierre Defraigne, Madariaga – College of Europe Foundation, Gus Van Harten, Osgoode Hall Law School, Jeronim Capaldo, Tufts University and Jeff Faux, Economic Policy Institute.
SOLIDAR Statement – Council on migration: EU leaders silent on core issues
15 September 2015
After the discussion on migration held yesterday on the occasion of the Extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council EU leaders came to the following conclusions: the decision taken in July to relocate 40,000 people in need of international protection from Italy and Greece was formally adopted; the Council agreed in principle to relocate an additional 120,000 people in need of international protection from Member States exposed to massive migratory flows and postponed the formal adoption to the next meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council scheduled on 8-9 October; it was agreed to immediately increase the European Union’s Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian Crisis; the Council decided to prioritise available resources from the enlargement process to increase the capacities of the Western Balkans to manage borders, receive and process flows of migrants.
Building Learning Societies
Education and Lifelong Learning in times of austerity
Education and lifelong learning in Europe are heavily affected by austerity policies. Nineteen EU Member States cut their education spending in national budgets (in 2012) and six of them decreased investment by more than 5%. Education in Europe is struggling between delivering the EU2020 education targets on the one hand, and national governments cutting funding in all fields of education on the other. The EU is still a long way from achieving the EU2020 targets on education; and austerity policies are having a strong impact, creating and perpetuating inequalities in education across the continent.
The lack of sustainable investment in education has a long-lasting impact on current and future generations. Young people who are unable to access education today will suffer from the consequences throughout their life – their chance of having access to, and exercising, their social, cultural and economic rights will be reduced.
Rising inequalities in educational attainment and access to education and lifelong learning are a visible issue, also bringing to light other areas relating to social well-being and inclusion. At the same time the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEETs) is continuously growing as well as the number of young migrants and refugees that will need assistance in accessing education and the labour market.
European Parliament’s hearing on education for intercultural dialogue
17 October 2015
On 15 September, the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament held a public hearing on “Intercultural dialogue and education for mutual understanding”. The hearing aimed to discuss issues related to cultural diversity, dialogue between different cultures and the role of education in promoting mutual understanding.
Europe is currently facing major challenges created by the rise of xenophobia, discrimination and extremism. Moreover, increasing migration and the refugee intake create more diversity within European societies and signal the need for new policies of integration, intercultural dialogue and respect between different cultures.
Organising International Solidarity
Development cooperation policy: another victim of austerity
18 September 2015
“…we urge developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) as ODA to developing countries…”.
Thirteen years have passed since heads of State and Government adopted the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development and yet, within the EU, only four countries are meeting the 0.7% target: the UK, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg.
As highlighted by CONCORD’s AidWatch Report, despite growing humanitarian and development challenges, such as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, EU aid is off track to meet the 0.7% aid target in 2015 with a funding gap of €41 billion.
Even so, development cooperation has not been spared by the austerity mantra that has fascinated many decision makers in Europe in recent years.
The European Union Social Protection Systems Programme kicks off
17 September 2015
This week, the EU Social Protection Systems Programme (EU-SPS) was launched. Co-financed by the European Union, the OECD and Finland, the programme aims to support low and lower middle-income countries in building sustainable and inclusive social protection systems. The EU-SPS will be implemented in ten partner countries – Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Togo, Kyrgyz Republic, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia between 2015 and 2018.
SOLIDAR considers this programme to be an excellent attempt to support countries in the development of nationally-owned social protection systems which deliver progressively higher levels of protection for all people throughout their lifecycle, and to bridge the gap between research and policy making. At the same time, according to SOLIDAR, which participated in the kickoff event, the success of the programme will rely also on its capacity to engage with national CSOs.