Almost ten years after the start of the economic and financial crisis, and despite positive signs in several Member States, the EU is still struggling with high unemployment. Despite recent improvements, 8.6 % of the active population - almost 21 million people – were out of work in 2016.
Several forms of unemployment need tackling as a priority. Long-term unemployment accounts for almost 50 % of the total and leads to skill depreciation, reduced labour market attachment and higher risk of social exclusion. Youth unemployment is another pressing problem, standing at over 19 % in 2016. Women, particularly mothers and others with caring responsibilities, remain under-represented in the workforce.
Numbers of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU rose from 116 million in 2008 to nearly 118 million in 2016. Unemployment is one of the main causes, as work usually enables people to participate fully in society, build social networks and fulfil their potential. This must also be seen together with our efforts to manage the migration situation.
Where we should look for opportunities, technological development, demographic change, globalisation and new production patterns tend to encourage social dumping, workforce exploitation, the rise of ideologies that reject solidarity and the erosion of gains made by the European social model. Good, stable, full-time jobs are lost, to be replaced by various types of work which are irregular, precarious or so badly paid that they don’t even offer a way out of poverty. Unfortunately, the working poor is a concept we cannot ignore in Europe.
Against this background, the European Economic and Social Committee’s 2017 Civil Society Prize rewards projects that promote quality jobs and entrepreneurship. The projects focus on young people, migrants and others finding it hard to get onto the labour market.
It is a great pleasure and a privilege to present this prize to the winners. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them but also to pay a well-deserved tribute to all individuals and civil society organisations whose hard work and commitment to making people’s lives better is an example to everyone. Only five were prize winners this year but looking at the many excellent proposals we received, European society wins through civil society engagement.
EESC President Georges Dassis