On 29 May 2013 the European Commission adopted this year’s ”country-specific recommendations” to EU Member States designed to move Europe beyond the crisis and strengthen the foundations for growth. Commission President José Manuel Barroso introduced the package saying, “Now is the time to step up the fundamental economic reforms that will deliver growth and jobs, which our citizens, especially our young people, anxiously expect. This is the only way to address the two lasting legacies of this crisis – the serious loss of competitiveness in many of our Member States, and persistent unemployment, with all its social consequences.”
The recommendations cover a wide range of issues, including public finances and structural reforms in areas such as taxation, pensions, public administration, services, and the labour market, especially youth unemployment. The programme countries (Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus) do not receive CSRs as their compliance with their macroeconomic adjustment programmes is monitored under a separate, more intensive, process. Five priorities had been identified for 2013: fiscal consolidation, lending, growth and competitiveness, tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis and modernising public administrations. John Halloran, ESN chief executive commented: “More and more of these recommendations require ownership and commitment from local and regional authorities responsible for delivery, yet we are aware of only minimal local/regional engagement in the European Semester, which remains a dialogue between the Commission and central government. While there are some ways in, the process is going to have to open up significantly in future if it is to be effective.”
Nine countries received a recommendation to do more to tackle poverty and social exclusion. Latvia and Lithuania received similar advice, the former for example was urged to “tackle high rates of poverty by reforming social assistance for better coverage, by improving adequacy and strengthening activation measures”. The Commission also recommended that Bulgaria “improve the accessibility and effectiveness of social transfers and services, especially for children and older people”.
ESN also notes that a number of countries received recommendations to enhance the efficiency of public spending on long-term care. Austria, Finland and Slovenia faced similar recommendations to shift towards prevention, rehabilitation and independent living and, in Slovenia’s case, to move away from institutional towards home care. Belgium and the Netherlands were both advised to improve the cost-efficiency of public spending on long-term care, particularly institutional care in the case of Belgium.
There were also concerns about public administration in many countries. The Commission recommended that Estonia should “better balance local government revenue against devolved responsibilities” and “ensure quality provision of local public services.” Finland, meanwhile, was urged to pursue its reforms to local government “in order to deliver productivity gains and cost savings”, including in social and healthcare services.
Childcare and education was a further feature of the recommendations to many countries. Interestingly, the Commission drew attention to the need for Romania “to speed up the transition from institutional to alternative care for children deprived of parental care”. The UK meanwhile was urged to “enhance efforts to support low-income households and reduce child poverty”. Youth Guarantees and the reduction of early school-leaving were among the prescribed policy measures for many countries (Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, UK).
Sweden was among those advised to pay special attention to improving the labour market integration of people with a migrant background and to “step up efforts to facilitate the transition from school to work”. Integration of migrants was also highlighted for Austria and Belgium among others, whilst Roma integration was key for Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
The European Social Network will be advising its Members to familiarise themselves with the CSRs as it may be appropriate to utilise them in policy development work and contacts with policy makers, at local, regional and in particular national level. They may be used to support investment in some types of social services and in new policy approaches. The CSRs now go forward to the Member States and will be formally adopted by the European Council in late June.