On 14 May the Ad-hoc Coalition on Country-Specific Recommendations composed by EAPN, European Women’s Lobby, Eurochild, Eurodiaconia, Caritas Europa, EASPD, AGE- Platform, Green Budget Europe organized a public hearing on “Strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the European semester: Civil society proposal for smart, sustainable and inclusive recovery”.
This public debate took place within the framework of the European Year of Citizenship, during which the image of the European Union has been unfortunately identified with austerity, particularly in the countries under the “troika arrangements”, and the EU popularity and legitimacy is at an all-time low. In this sense, the speakers have analysed the EU 2020 strategy, as the EU enters its 5th year of economic and social crises, putting in light what this programme lacks and what has not been done during these years.
As it has been outlined by some speakers and by the members of some NGOs that had the floor in the debate, the European Union’s measures of economic austerity are not giving the sufficient results as far as employment and development are concerned.
From this point of view, the intervention of Mr. Peter Verhaeghe, Head of Advocacy Unit of Caritas Europe, clearly focused on the fact that, while the unemployment rate is growing day by day, the Country-Specific Recommendation are inadequate and badly targeted. In his opinion, the solution is that the Commission should adress annual recommendations deeply linked to the investment in quality jobs, to the rising of minimal wages and to focus on family poverty, as well as on the needs of Romas, migrants and refugees at risk of exclusion.
During the conference, a double approach emerged towards the EU 2020 strategy: on the one hand, the speakers in general tended to appreciate the content because it tries to tackle a lot of problems and to reach important goals like reducing the unemployment rate, decreasing the CO2 emissions and allocate the 3% of the GDP to research and development; nevertheless, on the other hand, they pointed out the lack of the democratic involvement, concerning above all national parliaments and NGOs. In the general opinion, national parliaments and NGOs may contribute to the phase of monitoring, through the presentation of shadow reports every three years that can often be useful to better understand the reality that is closer to the citizens.
However, the leitmotiv of the public hearing was a severe critic of the austerity measures “that generate a social impact in the long term, but with deeper consequences” (quoting the representative of the European Association of Service Providers for persons with Disabilities) and that for many of the speakers, has to be set aside in order to give an impulse for the recovery of the social policies. For EUROCHILD, Jana Halmsworth outlined that the child poverty is escalating, and the States facing the worse conditions are Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, where there has been a sharp drop in investments as well.
On the same wavelength, Constanze Adolf from Green Budget Europe, has strongly underlined the importance of a sustainable economy combined with an environmental fiscal reform: changing the target of the taxes from the personal income to the most polluting fuels would also give benefits to the pension system.
The latter has been defined by Mary Collins, from European Women’s lobby, as “the mirror of gender inequality” because there is a big gap between the pension salary of men and women, which has significantly grown in conjunction with the austerity policies.
For that reason, the main objective of this meeting has been to call for an intervention on the part of the European commission as well as the Council of the EU, in order to address more precise Country-Specific-Recommendations and to give a social evaluation to the macroeconomic policies, without forgetting not only the most deprived persons, but also people with disabilities and women.
To sum all these important topics, the Ad-hoc Coalition on CSRs has elaborated ten key messages:
1) adopt a balanced social and sustainable dimension to the European Monetary Union, Europe 2020 and European Semester, strengthening ownership and democratic legitimacy through the national participation of national and EU parliaments and stakeholders
2) Confirm that the CSRs are an instrument to deliver on all Europe 2020 targets and that put social and environmental targets on an equal footing with macro-economic objectives
3) Requiring debate and endorsement by national parliaments and co-decision of the European parliament on the Annual Growth Survey
4) Adopt obligatory guidelines to ensure a meaningful partnership with stakeholders based on regular, structured dialogue involving multi-level governance, social partners, civil society
5) Ensure effective reporting and monitoring of social, environmental and equality projects.
6) Require effective ex-ante and ex-post impact assessment to ensure macroeconomic objectives
7) Provide increased transparency on the criteria and process used to develop the CSRs, ensuring the inclusion of key social, environmental, climate and equality indicators
8) Introduce mainstream gender and other equality objectives, that are currently absent
9) Use EU Funds to support civil society stakeholders to engage in the CSRs and NPRs on an equal basis.
10) Support and finance mutual learning and peer review on best practice and better methodologies
On the other hand the representative of the European Commission, the director of the EU 2020 Strategy has appreciated the input coming from this public hearing, but she has also argued that these are challenging times in which the Commission cannot bear all the responsibility of the insufficient engagement of the national parliaments and of society: in her opinion the states are called to play a very important role, and to find a better way to administrate the investments. From the debate that followed this intervention, a rejection of the austerity policies emerged once again, as did the claim for more specific statistics and a more democratic process to improve the EU 2020 strategy.
Giovanna De Maio
– “Strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the European Semester”