NGOs see social issues ‘back on the agenda’

The Party of European Socialists, social NGOs and businesses are equally happy about the 23-24 March 2006 Spring Council’s commitment to social cohesion, citizen involvement and job creation for young people.

The Social Platform, which brings together social NGOs from all over Europe, welcomed the recognition by EU leaders of the central role for social cohesion in the EU’s objectives, but questioned whether the EU is really prepared to confront its social and economic problems. Social Platform President Anne-Sophie Parent said: "Social NGOs have fought for the last year to save social Europe – so we are relieved to see that the fight against poverty and social exclusion is back on the agenda as a core part of the Lisbon Strategy." She urged EU leaders to show greater leadership to deliver results. "The outcome of the Summit looks promising on paper – but it is at national level that the commitments will be tested, and  governments will need to move up a gear in delivering social progress to regain citizens’ confidence." 

Steen Langebaek, President of AGE, the European older people’s platform, equally welcomed the conclusions of the Spring Council: "The Heads of State and Government have heard our call and have put the citizens back at the core of the Lisbon Strategy, but now they must translate these promising commitments into concrete actions at national level."

Kirsti Kolthoff, President of European Women’s Lobby  (EWL), said: "This is a very positive time for the advancement of gender equality in the European Union, as the political will at the highest level has renewed its strong commitment to equality between women and men. This was essential considering that commitments to support female employment and to realise gender equality were underdeveloped in the National Reform Programmes.”

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, President of the Party of European Socialists (PES), said: "Some positive and promising decisions were taken despite the tensions and disagreements. Although there is a growing cynicism about the gap between rhetoric and reality in European politics, I am encouraged by the emphasis on flexicurity, a new energy initiative, and on the need to invest in growth. What is needed now is for countries to show that they are willing to put good words into equally good practice."

Eurochambres, the association of European chambers of commerce and industry, declared that it  supports  "the  proposal  to  offer  every  young  person  a  job,  apprenticeship,  additional  training  or  other  employability  measure  within  6  months  of leaving school by 2010," adding that it is "willing and able to play a concrete role, by offering the support of its network of 2,000 local chambers of commerce  and industry, and of their schools and institutes which train more than 3 million students  per year."

The Presidency conclusions  (cf part three, chap (c)) from the 2006 Spring Council deal with the issue of "enhancing social cohesion". 

  • It contains explicit reference to the Social Agenda and says that social inclusion and social protection must be strengthened in order for the European social model to be sustainable 
  • It also mentions the Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion and announces that the Commission and the Council will produce similar reports prior to every Spring Council  
  • It calls on member states to "take necessary measures to rapidly and significantly reduce child poverty, giving all children equal opportunities, regardless of their social background"
  • It says that "policies that make it possible to combine working life with children and family life", including " affordable care for children and other people in need of care", are needed to tackle the challenges of demographic change.
  • It also speaks out in favour of the European Youth Pact and says that the employment rate of young people must be increased. 

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