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Dear Eurofound President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to speak at this year’s Foundation Forum. The issues dealt with at your forum are at the very heart of the EESC’s concerns.
My congratulations for the topics that you have chosen this year! At a time where most of the attention is given to the challenges the European budgets are facing, the long-term importance of economic and social challenges needs to be recognised. We need better functioning of labour markets and more robust welfare systems.
On what grounds must we take action? Article 9 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union says it all when stating that the Union shall take into account the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection and the fight against social exclusion.
The EESC has called for a European stimulus package for the labour market policy, amounting to 2% of GDP. We recognise that the "Compact for Growth and Jobs" adopted at the European Council summit in June 2012 is a first important step in that direction. This must be further fleshed out to create the needed room for manoeuvre for sustainable growth and employment across the Europe.
Full involvement of social partners and civil society at every stage of shaping and implementing employment policy is a key condition for successful policy coordination.
If we are to halt the social impact of the economic crisis and boost growth in Europe, it is vital to stimulate job creation, particularly in sectors with the largest growth potential.
What is also very important is to foster non-punitive pathways to join the labour market, ensure the quality and security of jobs and fight in-work poverty and undeclared work. Good working conditions, a healthy work-life balance and equal opportunities for men and women will boost their motivation to work better and longer.
We know some facts:
- The EESC congratulates the Commission for the launch of the "social investment package";
- Lifelong learning programmes promote the return to employment;
- Reducing taxes on labour helps reducing unemployment;
- A higher minimum wage has beneficial consequences, especially on insecure jobs;
- Social protection systems promote participation in the labour market.
In regards to youth unemployment, the Committee currently works on the “Youth Employment Package” and welcomed the “Youth Guarantee” and the “Quality Framework on Traineeships”. These initiatives that help young people move from education to the labour market must be supported.
The EESC agrees with the Commission’s priorities for tackling youth unemployment and we have just adopted our annual opinion on the Employment Guidelines. In this opinion we highlight a few additional important measures. I will not go too much into detail, but let me focus on a few points:
- A specific Youth Solidarity Fund for countries in particular difficulties should be established, if ESF funds are not sufficient;
- The dual system of apprenticeships should be explored;
- The recognition of the role of companies and especially SMEs in job creation should be improved;
What about social protection?
Although measures to increase employment are extremely important, the EESC believes that "active inclusion in the labour market" must not replace "social inclusion" as such. Indeed, vulnerable groups still unable to participate in the labour market have the right to a dignified life and full participation in society. This requires introducing minimum income schemes, or “living wages”.
We want people to have decent jobs and a quality life free from poverty. But this is not enough: We also want them to live in a society where wealth is better shared and access to quality and available services for everyone is ensured.
Social protection is neither an extravagance of rich countries nor an obstacle slowing down economic growth. Social protection should not be seen as a cost of society but as an investment. In Europe, countries with good social protection schemes have reacted much better to the crisis than the ones lacking it.
We need more social investment
The EESC congratulates the Commission for the launch of the "social investment package".
The EESC shares the view that it is essentially impossible to "save one's way out of a crisis", and that countries can only "grow their way out of it". This means making sustainable investments in skills, infrastructure and products and promoting investment in social services. A long-term social investment and a short-term fiscal consolidation should be mutually supportive to help Europe tackle the crisis.
These were my thoughts about these two complementing challenges which must be faced by the EU institutions and all EU Member States. I thank you for your attention and look forward to the continuation of the good cooperation between Eurofound and the EESC in the future!