Social Affairs Ministers: Lisbon strategy must include strong social dimension

The Social Affairs Council on 20 October discussed the Commission’s Communication on ‘Strengthening the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy’.

The Social Affairs Council on 20 October endorsed the Opinion on the SPC, backing the core objectives of the Commission’s proposal through a better interaction between the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and the European Employment Strategy, and by strengthening the synergies between the different strands of work on social protection.

However, the SPC underlines the importance of maintaining the distinct public identity that has been created for the different processes of social inclusion and pensions. In this context, it believes that the National Action Plans for Inclusion and National Strategy Reports on Pensions should continue as specific components of a single framework. It adds that a detailed evaluation of the work undertaken in various areas is essential before streamlining can take place, and the close cooperation between the SPC and EPC should be continued.

The SPC proposes that a short, high-level paper setting out coherent and integrated policy messages reflecting key issues within the current work on social protection should be prepared for submission to the Spring 2004 European Council.

TheSocial Platform, the association of European social NGOs, endorses the Commission's objectives to streamline processes and improve co-ordination of economic and employment policies. However, there are concerns regarding the proposed methods for achieving the overall objective. In particular, the Social Platform is concerned that the combination of different fields of social policy into an integrated framework would lead to a weakening of the individual elements. Moreover, the Platform criticised that there is no mention in the Communication of the Action Programme on Social Exclusion.

SOLIDAR, an international alliance of social and humanitarian NGOs, welcomes the streamlining of the different processes that make up the Lisbon Strategy as an important step towards a more integrative approach of economic, social and environmental policy planning. However, the association stresses that future work on social inclusion and social protection should go further by actively contributing to the fight against poverty and social exclusion.

On 27 May 2003, the Commission adopted a Communication entitled 'Strengthening the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy: streamlining open co-ordination in the field of social protection'. This proposal aims to improve, simplify and make more visible the EU's work in co-ordinating Member States' social protection policies. This includes pensions, social inclusion and combating poverty, health care & care for the elderly and social security systems (especially on how to make the system encourage people to work).

The Communication sets out how the EU should, by 2006, integrate co-ordination in these fields of social protection into a single framework and process using the open method of co-ordination by 2006. It is designed to reinforce the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy of economic, employment and social reform and increase the effectiveness of the economic and employment dimensions.

In response to the Commission's proposal, both the Economic Policy Committee's (EPC) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC) adopted an Opinion.

The ECOFIN Council on 7 October 2003 endorsed the EPC opinion on the Commission Communication, which underlines the importance of close co-ordination on pensions and health care between the ECOFIN Council and the Employment and Social Affairs Council.

In particular, the EPC opinion stresses that:

  • streamlining in the field of social protection should reduce overlap between processes and reduce the number and length of reports;
  • the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy might benefit if social factors were better integrated into existing processes;
  • it is important that the Community should continue to support and complement the activities of Member States in the social protection area, with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity and the diversity of national systems.

 

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