Following months of disagreement, EU member states - in a move described as "surprising" by officials -yesterday (7 June) agreed on a specific plan for reducing poverty as part of the bloc's 'Europe 2020' strategy for growth in the coming decade.
The agreement, which broadly followed the outline revealed by diplomats to EurActiv in early June 2010 (EurActiv 04/06/10), will offer EU countries three options for measuring the percentage of their population living in poverty or social exclusion.
The multiple-choice indicators, proposed by the EU's Social Protection Committee following the failure to agree on one 'unified indicator' as suggested by the European Commission, leave member states "free to set their national targets on the basis of the most appropriate indicators, taking into account their national circumstances and priorities".
EU officials contacted by EurActiv expressed surprise that an agreement was reached among EU social and employment ministers. Indications before yesterday's meeting in Luxembourg were that the disagreements would persist, they said.
Instead, EU leaders will now have a concrete agreement to rubber-stamp at their forthcoming summit in Brussels (17 June), which will aim to finalise the Europe 2020 strategy.
Recipe for chaos?
While many social stakeholders are pleased that the EU has made poverty reduction such a high-ranking priority (EurActiv 04/06/10), scepticism remains over how – and even if - the latest agreement will function in practice.
One expert contacted by EurActiv, who did not wish to be named ahead of next week's '2020' summit, said that without a single unified target, "there is going to be chaos".
While the agreement specifies that member states "must take into consideration" that their national targets "should contribute" to the overall EU target of reducing the number of people living in poverty by 20 million, the expert argued that if different countries apply different criteria, the overall results will provide a false picture.
With the multiple-choice indicators, the whole idea of who is and who is not in poverty becomes a mess, they concluded.
The ministers also approved the Social Protection Committee's proposal for a mid-term review of the EU's 20 million target in 2015.
In a letter to EU ministers ahead of yesterday's meeting, the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) argued that the multiple-choice or 'aggregate' indicator could "raise difficulties in terms of comprehension and communication to the public and thus lose the advantage that setting a headline target to reduce poverty could bring to the EU in terms of putting a human face to the work of the EU".
"In addition," they argued, "this aggregate indicator will not replace the need for a comprehensive set of indicators that reflect the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and social exclusion".
- 17 June 2010: EU leaders to meet in Brussels to finalise 'Europe 2020' strategy.