AGS 2019: Increase in social rights and participation but more needed to rebalance economic and social goals! – EAPN STATEMENT ON THE ANNUAL GROWTH SURVEY

By European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN)

Today the European Commission adopted the Annual Growth Survey 2019 (AGS) as part of the Autumn Package. EAPN is actively engaging in the ‘European Semester,’ at EU and national level, as the main EU process for economic and social coordination in order to achieve a reduction in poverty, social exclusion and to implement the Pillar of Social Rights. In October, EAPN sent a letter to President Juncker[1] outlining our 6 key steps for change to get concrete results on poverty from the European Semester. In the coming weeks we will carry out a consultation with our members on the full Autumn package.

Does the AGS 2019 deliver? Our initial response is that the AGS 2019 takes some welcome steps towards increasing the focus on social rights and improving participation of civil society but falls short of rebalancing economic and social goals or delivering a concrete road map to deliver concretely on all social rights from the European Pillar of Social Rights, in the context of the SDGs. In order to achieve a Poverty Free Europe, we know that high level political commitments like the Pillar of Social Rights, the SDGs and the Europe 2020 poverty target must be translated into actions on the ground which create meaningful changes to the lives of those affected by poverty – and we are concerned that the AGS will not offer real answers to 113 million people still in poverty waiting for the EU to deliver on its promises of these political commitments.

“The problem is not that we run out of money occasionally. The real problem is that we live our entire lives this way and our children grow up in this too.”  Person with direct experience of poverty – EAPN 2018 Poverty Watch Summary.

Although the new AGS is a welcome step in the right direction, we are concerned the continuing dominant macroeconomic priorities still focused on growth, reducing costs on welfare states and ongoing austerity which prevent real progress on poverty and social rights. Our General Assembly in Vienna in September called for a change in approach, based on a recognition of the negative impacts of austerity and the pursuit of economic growth at the expense of people and the environment. The EU must truly commit to a Poverty Free Europe,[2] based on a new development model with a renewed focus on inequality, poverty and guaranteeing well-being. The EU will need to send out stronger evidence of this if it’s to convince people on the ground that the ‘Social Triple A’ means more than words.”  Leo Williams, EAPN Director.

EAPN welcomes:

  • the emphasis on reinforcing the social dimension and upward convergence of living and working conditions and the commitment to “turning the European Pillar of Social Rights into Action” and EU and national level;
  • the recognition that growth has not benefited everybody equally and that persistent high levels of inequality are a major challenge;
  • the recognition that tackling poverty and inequality requires inclusive and efficient tax-benefit systems, adequacy and coverage of benefits, wage growth, as well better tax collection and sharing of the tax-burden.
  • The focus on access to quality education/training through the life cycle, to care services, and investment in affordable housing – those more details are needed
  • The first mention of civil society in an AGS as a dialogue partner in order to gain legitimacy and ownership and “better socio-economic solutions”.

However, EAPN is concerned that the overarching narrative and priority continues to be private investment, growth and fiscal constraint. A real rebalancing of economic and social priorities must mean:

  • Actively promoting public social investment to reverse the negative impact of austerity
  • A concrete road map/action to spell out how all social rights in the EPSR will be progressively implemented and monitored, with requisite financial and economic support through the MFF
  • An integrated strategy to rapidly reduce poverty for all groups that guarantees access to quality jobs, adequate minimum income/ social protection, quality public services including social housing, allowing fiscal flexibility to ensure investment to deliver it
  • Reducing inequality by fairer distribution and redistribution policies: decent wages, progressive tax/benefit policies and investment in quality public services.
  • Ensuring that EU Funds are not only linked to CSRs on ‘economic reforms’ but ‘reforms’ in social investment to guarantee key social rights, which will concretely reduce poverty and inequality starting with Principle 14 of the Social Pillar – adequate minimum income.
  • Going further to make civil society organizations a real partner. Recital 11 of the new Employment Guidelines provides a new legal basis for civil society engagement in the Semester and needs concrete guidelines and new agreed process for structured engagement with civil society organizations as equivalent partners, at national and EU level, as well as investing in capacity building and effective participation.

Finally, a real commitment to rebalancing requires not just the insertion of positive social references, but a change of name, goals and approach – Transforming the Semester into a Social and Sustainable Semester, with an annual Social and Sustainable Survey, and redesigning the Stability and Growth Pact as a Stability and Wellbeing Pact, would send a vital signal that the EU means to deliver a Social and Sustainable Europe that defends people and planet, before markets and business.

[1] EAPN Letter to President Juncker on AGS (October 2018), Key demands: Ensure macroeconomic policies promote social rights and poverty reduction; 2) Progress on Poverty and social rights, with an integrated antipoverty strategy, and road map/action plan on EPSR; 3) Invest in Quality Employment – to ensure no one left behind; 4) Equal access to universal education and lifelong learning; 5) Increased EU Funds for poverty, supporting active inclusion ;6) Making participation a driver and civil society an equal partner

[2] Final Declaration of EAPN General Assembly (September 2018)

For further information, contact Sian Jones (Policy Coordinator), or Elke Vandermeerschen (Communications Officer) | Tel. +32 2 226 58 50.

The European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) is the largest European network of national, regional and local networks, involving anti-poverty NGOs and grassroot groups as well as European Organisations, active in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. It was established in 1990.

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