French experts welcomed the fact that the European Commission's draft 'Europe 2020' strategy introduces specific, EU-wide poverty reduction commitments for the first time.
Speaking to EurActiv France, Geneviève Colas, head of the Europe department at anti-poverty NGO Secours Catholique, said that "setting an objective at the EU level is a step in the right direction".
However, she argued that "what has so far been proposed is clearly not enough" and called for "a list of precise targeted objectives".
Her attitude may be explained by France's own national laws on poverty reduction, which are among the most ambitious in Europe and outstrip the Europe 2020 targets.
This fact was highlighted by François Soulage, France's ambassador to the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, who told EurActiv France that "the poverty reduction target of 25% contained in the Europe 2020 strategy will have no impact in France".
France is actually in favour of more challenging objectives, but countries such as the United Kingdom and Central and Eastern European states disagree with it.
Attempts by the current French government to give new impetus to the fight against poverty included a poverty reduction target of one third within five years, which was set in 2007. The government also decided to increase the minimum retirement pension by 25%, while the Revenue de Solidarité Active (RSA), an income supplement, was implemented in June 2009.
According to economist François Bourguignon, between 400,000 and 850,000 people will be able to rise above the poverty line thanks to the policy.
The current government did not start from scratch, as previous administrations also brought in anti-poverty policies. Before 1980, aid was allocated according to the risks people were facing – for example illness, ageing or unemployment – in order to supplement people's insufficient resources. For example, the minimum retirement pension dates back to 1956.
During the 1980s, poverty and long-term unemployment increased. New policies were no longer based on people's jobs, but rather on citizenship. Specific policies against exclusion took over and various government-guaranteed minimum social benefits, called 'minima sociaux', were implemented. In 1988, the RSA's predecessor, the minimum integration revenue (RMI), was established.
But there is more to poverty reduction measures than income supplements and minimum income policies. Rights were also created, such as the right to accommodation in 1990. Likewise in 1999, the Couverture Maladie Universelle (CMU) enabled people with low incomes to receive free health care.
How many French citizens can be considered poor? In 2007, the EU monetary poverty rate - which measures the proportion of people living on below 60% of average income levels - was around 16%. France's rate is slightly below this, at around 13%.
This rate has been stable for ten years. It means that there are eight million people living on less than €908 per month. Among these, 3.7 million receive between €750 and €900 per month and 1.8 million are living on €600 or less per month.
Moreover, the number of French citizens seen as "very poor" has increased in recent years, according to a report by the National Observatory for Poverty and Social Exclusion.
European Year against Poverty 'dying on its feet' in France
In a related development, the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion seems to be dying on its feet in France.
French Ambassador to the European Year François Soulage expressed bafflement to EurActiv France over the fact that "nothing much is happening".
He explained that the former French minister in charge of combating poverty, Martin Hirsch, had assured him in February 2010 that the pledges taken at the beginning of the year (see 'Background') would be honoured, but conceded that there had been no concrete action to date. Hirsch was sacked in March 2010 after the French regional elections.
As a result of this intransigence, he went on to note, "I will not be able to vouch for the commitments I have made as ambassador" due to the "lack of political will".