Rising poverty and unemployment: Discarded priorities of the EU budget

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

After more than two years of campaigning for a social pillar in the EU budget, the proposals made last week are extremely disappointing and worrying, writes Pierre Baussand.

Pierre Baussand is director of the Social Platform non-governmental organisation.

"This week EU leaders are proposing to make the deepest budget cuts to the Cohesion Funds, almost €30 billion from a budget meant for social and territorial cohesion (which includes money for combating unemployment, poverty and social exclusion).

This is at a time when poverty has never been so high (currently 116 million people are experiencing poverty in Europe) and when unemployment has reached a record level of 10.6% in the EU.

There is a clear lack of concern for those in poverty and for the marginalised in our societies especially at a time when demand for social and employment support is growing.

Decreasing the cohesion funds to the level of €309,5 billion will have a detrimental impact in particular on the European Social Fund (meant to support people in getting a job and for combating poverty and social exclusion).

Even if the 25% allocation to the ESF is maintained – which is highly questioned by Member States – paradoxically it will be €6 billion less than for the previous period (2007-20013) when poverty and unemployment were at a lower level.

This in turn lowers the budget that is exclusively for combating poverty and social exclusion which is 20% of the ESF (€15.5 billion).

The lack of investment in social cohesion is a deliberate choice.  Behind the budget, political decisions are being made by the Heads of State setting the priorities for the next 7 years: competitiveness and growth. This is a fundamental issue.

The Council believes that competitiveness will bring growth, growth will bring employment, and employment will in turn reduce poverty. We believe otherwise: there is no growth foreseen for many years in the EU and most of the jobs created since 2009 are precarious and have led to an increase of working poor.

This will certainly not solve the issue of poverty – while the levels reached today questions our democracy and social cohesion.

After more than two years of campaigning for a social pillar in the EU budget,for an inclusive strategy, the proposals made last week and the negotiations that will start tonight are extremely disappointing and worrying.

But unfortunately this lack of commitment does not come as a surprise. Three years after committing to reduce the number of people experiencing poverty by 20 million by 2020, in the National Reform Programmes, the member states have only shown a commitment of 10.7 million (source: European Commission). And at the same time poverty is on the increase.

Poverty and unemployment are European challenges that require a European answer. They must be recognised as a real political priority and as such be recognised as a priority in the EU budget.

We need a strong ESF as proposed by the Commission and Parliament with funding levels at least higher than in 2007. Most of the EU institutions have done their job in supporting this: the Commission, the Parliament, the EESC and the CoR.

The Council, with the highest decision making power, remains unconvinced even though trends show that poverty will not be solved with the current EU policies.

We will continue to struggle for a strong social pillar in the EU budget for a different Europe, for a Europe that prioritises social cohesion and all of its citizens. But citizens may not be as hopeful as we are and may being to turn their backs on the EU." 

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