European Commission’s 2017 country report: an enduring focus on employment

As observed in 2016 and previously in the European Commission’s Country-specific Recommendations, this year’s country reports also put a major focus on labour markets and employment. Despite the undoubted importance of employment [E1] to alleviate poverty however, the importance of social services should not be forgotten. When it comes to supporting the inclusion of individuals and families, especially the most vulnerable, in their communities once they are in employment, local social services play a key role. A number of countries have undergone a decisive move towards decentralisation, leaving sub-national authorities with increased responsibilities for the implementation of the policies described in the country reports. Among these policies are those relating to children, disability and old age, to name just a few.

Public social services are key stakeholders in responding to the employment and social challenges identified in the country reports, such as the lack of affordable housing, support for those in poverty, long-term care services and the inclusion of refugees and migrants. Yet, the recognition of the role of social services in policy implementation is weak throughout the reports.

Main messages from ESN on the EU Semester

In 2016, we published our annual European Semester report, featuring a cross-country analysis, 25 country profiles, and 25 alternative Country-specific Recommendations (links below). The key messages from our report are pertinent today more than ever:

  • Regional and local authorities continue to be notably under involved in EU policy-making and evaluation, despite growing responsibilities, not least because of increasing decentralisation.
  • The fallout from the financial crisis remains significant. Fiscal consolidation continues to jeopardise social investment and ‘socially sustainable’ societies.
  • Despite budget constraints, positive trends must be noted, such as an emerging use of evidence-based practice, which benefits both social services professionals and service users.
  • Common challenges affect local communities across Europe, regardless of national social welfare systems. This reasserts the need for peer learning and EU-wide efforts towards better service provision, especially for vulnerable groups.

Whether the social dimension of the EU Semester will gain momentum remains to be seen. Some encouraging signs certainly allow us to hope for it. In 2016, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for the introduction of a Europe-wide “Pillar” that would recognise, enhance and protect “social rights”. More recently in his White Paper on the future of Europe, President Juncker announced the publication, in April 2017, of a ‘reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe’.

As reflections and negotiations about the post-2020 period are about to start, now is certainly a good time to push for a “people’s Europe” - one that reaches out to all of its citizens, invests in efficient public services and places “peace, freedom, tolerance and solidarity […] above all else” (J.-C. Juncker, White Paper on the future of Europe).