A shared strategy

A round table on Europe 2020 in Brussels

Paolo lives in Antwerp. He’s fifty years old. He enjoys being with his friends and talking about topical political issues and sport. Paolo is a mentally challenged person who advocates the interests of disabled persons, so as to boost public awareness to this regard. His motorial and speaking difficulties didn’t prevent him from inviting the mayor of Antwerp to attend a lecture on the difficulties experienced by the disabled when they are seeking employment. His courage and his determination were fruitful. The mayor decided to include him in the municipal inclusive policy team of experts. The case of Paolo was discussed in a round table held in Brussels on October 18 – 19 to debate a document issued by the European Commission in October 2008: the so-called “Active Inclusion recommendation”. The document advocates the adoption of a global strategy to uproot poverty that should include three strands: sufficient income support; inclusive labour markets; access to quality services. Since 2002 the yearly round table on poverty and social exclusion – called by the European Commission and by the E.U. Council Presidency-in-office, currently held by Belgium – seeks to bring the theme of social exclusion within the political agenda. Since 2009 it focuses its efforts on implementing the recommendation. The EU has a major challenge: enabling 20 million people to exit poverty by 2020 (“Europe 2020” strategy). Involving the “real poor”. Experts from all over Europe convened to attend six different workshops. While the first four tacked the pillar actions of the recommendation (a workshop was especially devoted to child poverty), the fifth workshop addressed the question of governance and the sixth tackled the “Europe 2020” strategy. A general appeal was made to the European Commission to develop a more active policy, so that the recommendation document will not remain dead letter. Minimum wage is a priority of the Belgian Presidency. To this regard experts enjoined the Commission to ensure that minimum wage is granted to all those entitled, preventing discrimination and meeting the needs of poor brackets. Most of all, experts underlined the need to involve the stakeholders in drawing up the criteria. Indeed, the definition of poverty (those whose income is 60% less than mean national income) does not reflect the wide range of situations. In fact, it only refers to monetary poverty, while it does not consider other aspects of poverty such as access to services. The direct involvement of poor people enables to modify the general view of ‘the poor’ and extend the understanding of the phenomenon of poverty. On the basis of this request the Belgian presidency has already announced the decision to implement a budget revision process and informed that the conclusions will be submitted to other Member States at the end of November, hoping to trigger a debate between governments and civil society. The platform of struggle against poverty. It was another major theme of the round table. The idea is rather new, as it is included in the 7 key-initiatives envisaged for the implementation of the “Europe 2020” strategy. Now it is a question of understanding how to organize this platform. The first proposal aims at developing a global approach to poverty and exclusion integrating many aspects like health, economic development, the youth, the environment and the regions. However, this demands the adoption of a global strategy, capable of giving thrust to action and coordination. Experts consider the systematic evaluation of the impact of social policy measures an important coordination tool provided for in the Treaty of Lisbon. Such analysis would not only keep track of the situation of poor people (especially given the ongoing financial and economic crisis). It would also enable the gradual change of politicians’ mentality. Another tool proposed by experts is the development of national action plans that could trigger the development of consistent and effective strategies, provided that civil society and the stakeholders are directly involved. However, such national plans demand European coordination, so that the struggle for combating poverty may truly eliminate disparities between Member States. In a borderless Union, the belief of solving poverty in the North without decreasing it in the South is unrealistic, nor is it realistic to consider uprooting poverty in the East and not in the West. Migrations would nullify national efforts, thus promoting extreme-right radicalisms. The fight against poverty should therefore be conducted at European level. The Commission is tasked with the increasingly cumbersome responsibility of coordinating Member States’ action plans for combating poverty and social exclusion.

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