Poverty – a steady guest in Europe

Poverty in Europe is on the decline, but very slowly so, says a recent study commissioned by Fondation Robert Schuman. The EU’s role on combating pauperism, it says, is seldom acknowledged.

Even though social policy remains national competence, the EU has played an important role in reducing poverty, says the study, by Sarah Bouquerel et Pierre-Alain de Malleray of the Institut d’études politiques de Paris. Especially social cohesion policy, they say, is essential in combating monetary poverty. 

“Poverty”, the experts say, “is a phenomenon which takes many forms and is hard to comprehend. There can be no doubt that a household lacking of resources to fulfill everyday needs like food, shelter or heating, is poor. But what about a household which can’t afford holiday trips, which can’t buy a dishwasher?” 

There are big regional and national differences, they say, in evaluating such indicators. Subjectively, a household with the same living standard may go for poor in a Nordic country, but for relatively wealthy in Greece, Portugal or some new member states. Technically, the measure used is strictly national: A household which disposes of less than 60 percent of the country’s median income is called poor. Expressed in purchasing power standards (PPS) , the poverty line in 2001 was at 2,183 in Estonia and at 14,376 in Luxembourg. According to these criteria, 72 million Europeans (16%) lived under conditions of poverty, which is only 3% less than in 1994. 

The authors argue in favour of the EU’s exemption of social policy, such as housing and other social services, from the scope of competition policy: “The primary motor in reducing poverty in Europe is by far the social protection systems established by each Member State. The statistics speak for themselves: social protection regimes enable the reduction of the monetary poverty rate in Europe from 40 % (measured before social transfers) to 16 % (after transfers)! By positioning these measures outside the sphere of European competition and by progressively encouraging their coordination the Union thereby aids the effectiveness of the main instrument which public authorities dispose of to reduce poverty.”

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