ESN participated in the conference on 'Social Policy Coordination in the Context of EU 2020' held in Belgrade, on March 29, at the initiative of the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration. The conference was held in collaboration with Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion and with the support of the Directorate-General for Enlargement (TAIEX Office).

The meeting, opened by the Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration BozidarDjelic, brought together officials from the European Commission (Georg Fischer and Walter Wolf), senior national civil servants, representatives of local authorities, NGOs and research institutions.

ZarkoSunderic, from the Government’s Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit, discussed the findings of the first ‘National Report on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction in the Republic of Serbia’. According to the report in 2010:

  • Absolute poverty rate rose from 6.9 in 2009 to 9.2%
  • Unemployment reached 20% with over two thirds of people of working age being long-term unemployed
  • Youth unemployment (15-24) reached 46%
  • Non-activity (unemployed and not looking for a job) reached 41%

The key challenges for the Serbian welfare state are the negative demographic trends, the pressure on social and health protection systems, a shrinking economy combined with higher social expenditure, the mismatch of skills and jobs and the lack of policy coordination in combating unemployment and poverty by various ministries.

Reflecting on the ways forward, Sunderic spoke about the policy actions which need to be given the priority in the forthcoming months:

  1. Reducing school drop-out and helping leavers to return to schools
  2. Activating beneficiaries of social assistance schemes
  3. Better aligning passive and active labour market policies
  4. Promoting social entrepreneurship
  5. Improving access to financial services to poorer households
  6. De-institutionalising care
  7. Promoting longer working life

GordanaMatkovic, from the Centre for Liberal and Democratic Studies, presented an overview of the draft law on social welfare. This milestone legislation, currently under discussion in the Serbian Parliament, will be the first social reform in twenty years. The law will create a new framework for the development of modern local social services in Serbia, as it specifically stipulates the decentralisation of social welfare responsibilities from the central government to local municipalities.

Commenting the draft law, the President of the Standing Conference of Serbian Municipalities, SasaPaunovic stressed that the transfer of responsibilities has to be accompanied by the transfer of funds and expertise at the local level to deliver quality services.

The European Social Network (ESN) will be closely monitoring policy developments in Serbia, working with its Members, Association of Centres for Social Work of Serbia, Social Innovation Fund, Belgrade Gerontology Centre, and Subotica Gerontology Centre, to support them to meet the major challenges outlined at this conference.