Parliament calls for strong life-long learning systems and action on poverty in EU Semester
The European Parliament has adopted two positions on the Annual Growth Survey, the document defining the Commission's priorities for this year's cycle of coordination of economic policies. The reports call repeatedly for investment to be directed into life-long learning and long-term care infrastructure. It also calls for decisive actions to fight long-term unemployment and to step up the fight against poverty, re-affirming the social targets the EU has set itself in the Europe 2020 strategy. It also emphasises the importance of social fairness in conducting reforms.
In its reports, the European Parliament comments on the Commission's priorities which were published in autumn, which are to re-launch investment, to pursue structural reforms and "responsible" fiscal policies. The Parliament broadly welcomes these priorities, addressing recommendations on which policy areas to stress concretely.
Fight long-term unemployment and start investing into life-long learning
Regarding older workers, the Parliament highlights the fact that employment rates are very low for this age category and that they are at a higher risk of long-term unemployment. The Parliament also highlights discrimination against long-term job-seekers and low hiring rates of older workers. Several calls are made to promote an investment strategy for the full cycle of education, including lifelong learning, work-based and workplace learning, and formal and non-formal education. The need to make education systems inclusive for all age groups by focussing on adult education and vocational training, especially to increase digital skills, are highlighted. The Parliament also called for coherent validation of non-formal and informal knowledge, mutual recognition of skills and qualifications.
Several calls are also made in support of measures to allow for a balance between work and family life, including care for dependent family members.
Specifically for older workers, the Parliament stresses the importance of responding to their specific needs, for example by flexible employment solutions. The Parliament also supports tax rules the create incentives for entrepreneurship and employment creation for younger and older workers.
Poverty target re-affirmed
The Europe 2020 poverty target, aimed to reduce the number of people living in poverty or social exclusion by 20 million by 2020, has also been reaffirmed. The Parliament calls for stronger action on poverty and to re-link the Europe 2020 strategy to the European Semester and invites the Commission to present an integrated anti-poverty strategy for the EU. It asks for including indicators for the quality of employment, poverty and inequalities in the Semester.
Pension reforms: reconcile adequacy and sustainability
In light of demographic change, the Parliament also raises the question of promoting active ageing and the importance of maintaining adequacy of first pillar pensions and minimum income schemes. Several references are made to adequacy of income support throughout the lifetime, all while maintaining the sustainability of public pension systems, the principle of subsidiarity in this regards.
Support carers, measure access to health care, invest in long-term care
The need for investment into formal and informal care resources is highlighted as well as the importance to improve the situation of informal carers. The Parliament reminds the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which should be respected in the Semester process. In terms of health care, the Parliament encourages to measure the access and quality of healthcare with a view of reducing health inequalities.
Other general issues discussed in the Parliament's reports are the need to monitor the economic consequences of the migration crisis, to enable demand-side policies to restart growth, take a closer look at taxation to encourage work and fight tax fraud. Terms of process, the Parliament calls for a new inter-institutional agreement that would allow more debate in the European and national Parliaments and a stronger inclusion of social partners and civil society in the Semester process.
Council with a more fiscal stance
While the Parliament has therefore far-reaching demands to improve the European Semester and the policies it deals with significantly, the Council of Employment and Social ministers should adopt a resolution on Monday 7 March, focussing more on the importance of fiscal consolidation. The Council does however also affirm the importance of tackling poverty and social exclusion, as well as unemployment. The Council stresses the importance of 'flexicurity' and social investment into human capital. It also asks to better include social indicators into the Semester process. The Council supports the increased action on long-term unemployment and on improving work-life balance as well as gender equality in the labour market. It also calls for investments in healthcare and long-term care using, amongst others, the European investment funds. On health and long-term care, the Council emphasises however the need to balance sustainability and universal access to quality, affordably long-term care and the shift to community care.
The European Semester is a yearly exercise to coordinate the member state's economic and budgetary policies and has a wide impact on social policies as well. The European Commission is starting the cycle by defining common priorities in the Annual Growth Survey, published in autumn 2015 and country-reports that highlight the challenges to each country in February. Based on these priorities, the member states highlight their reform efforts in National Reform Programmes, published in April and the European Council adopts country-specific recommendations in June.
AGE has addressed a letter to Commission President Juncker in October to emphasise the needs of older persons to be addressed in the Annual Growth Survey and the 2016 European Semester. It is planning to assess the Semester and the reforms it entails throughout the year on European and national levels.
For more information, please contact Philippe Seidel at the AGE Secretariat: Philippe.firstname.lastname@example.org
European Parliament, European Semester for economic policy coordination: Annual Growth Survey, 2015/2285(INI)
European Parliament, European Semester for economic policy coordination: Employment and Social Aspect in the Annual Growth Survey 2016, 2015/2330(INI)
Council of the European Union Working Party on Social Questions, The 2016 Annual Growth Survey and Joint Employment Report: Political guidance on employment and social policies – Draft Council Conclusions, 6148/16
European Commission, Annual Growth Survey 2016, COM(2015) 690 final
European Commission, Draft Joint Employment Report 2016, COM(2015) 700 final