With the EU Institutions producing a tremendous amount of reading material every week, it is sometimes hard to discern which direction we should be pointing our limited resources and time. This is even more the case for many of us who are not based in Brussels and might not be familiar with the rather technical and suspiciously similar-sounding jargon emanating from the heart of Europe. This is why we have considered writing this article on the Europe 2020 Strategy Review that came out at the beginning of March, to discuss its importance for the future of the Europe and to critically analyse the direction that the Commission is taking with it.
Before diving into the Communication, we should briefly explain that the Europe 2020 is a ten year growth strategy to make Europe smarter, more sustainable and inclusive. It is based on specific targets relating to five areas of action: Employment, Research and Development, Climate change and energy sustainability, Education and Fighting Poverty and Social Exclusion. We might recall that the Europe 2020 Strategy was launched in 2010 in a time when the EU was immerged in a very complicated economic and political situation, highlighted by the bailout of Greece. Nevertheless, four years later, circumstances for many European citizens have worsened. We are also concerned that the current use of the Europe 2020 Strategy might have deviated from its original purpose of inclusive growth and that it might be focusing more on the economic reforms through the National Reform Programmes that are bringing austerity across Europe without any consideration of social impacts.
The Communication makes no reference to health. This despite the fact that health has a key role to play in many of the EU2020 flagship initatives. EPHA is calling on MEP candidates to ensure the revision of Europe 2020 has a strong health dimension.
In its report, the Commission rightly recognises that the EU cannot return to the growth “model" of the previous decade with its fiscal imbalances, real estate bubbles, widening social inequalities, lack of sufficient entrepreneurship and innovation, dysfunctional financial systems, growing energy dependency, multiple pressures on the use of resources and the environment, sharp increases in unemployment, and weaknesses in education and training systems. However, we are concerned that these pressing issues are not being addressed in a balanced way. For instance, the Communication raises its concerns about the consequences of underperforming public administrations. This in our opinion might help to distort the view of the public sector. We see public sector involvement in these areas as part of the solution and not as part of the problem.
Another point being raised is that a partnership approach is being undertaken with the European Parliament and the various formations of the Council. Yet there has been minimal involvement of EPSCO Council (Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs from the Council of the European Union) or ENVI Committee (Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety from the European Parliament). The social partners’ involvement in the European Semester has also been strengthened. However, there is no indication of how wider stakeholder dialogue is meant to be achieved. In many Member States, the involvement of the different stakeholders in the implementation of the strategy could still be improved.
The report also explores the situation among EU countries on wealth distribution. While GDP and wealth have continued to increase overall, inequality has risen in Europe - as in other developed countries - since the mid-1980s. There are now wide inequalities in the distribution of income in the EU: on average, the top 20% earned 5.1 times as much income as the bottom 20% in 2012. The crisis is expected to have led to a further rise in inequality and to have constrained redistributive systems even more.
“The Europe 2020 Strategy is falling short in creating smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe, let alone delivering better health and well-being for all. This review must put the environmental and social objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy on an equal footing with the economic ones” said Monika Kosińska, Secretary General of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).
On the employment target, the Communication rightly notes the need to tap into a potential labour force consisting largely of women, older people, as well as so far inactive adults, including migrants. Nevertheless, there was no mention of people living with chronic conditions, disabilities or mental health problems. We also salute the Commission’s stand on the importance for the EU economy on the sustainability of net migration, that dispels populist stereotypes that are becoming increasingly common about migration. Net migration has exceeded natural population increases since1992 and now accounts for two-thirds of Europe’s population growth. This also has a positive impact in balancing the far-reaching consequences of trends of ageing in Europe, which if maintained will be a challenge for welfare systems across Europe.
As a final remark we would like to add that the Commission will run a public consultation, based on the analysis in this Communication, inviting all interested parties to contribute their views. Following the consultation, the Commission will make proposals for the pursuit of revising the strategy early in 2015. Early in March, EPHA and the European Patients Forum wrote to President Barroso about the health dimension.
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