Ladies and gentlemen
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. Since it is the first time that I am taking the floor I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you Mr. Chairman and the other members of the bureau for your election and to assure you of the full support of the European Union. We are confident that your able leadership will steer us through a successful session.
The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, and the EFTA countries Iceland and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Georgia align themselves with this declaration.
The World Summit on Social Development and the 24th Special Session of the General Assembly on the implementation of its outcome were powerful global commitments to social development and important landmarks in the achievement of agreed consensus on key goals, especially poverty eradication, full employment and social integration to be pursued over the years.
In 1995, the significance of social development and human well-being for all were recognised for the first time in the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, and there was agreement on giving those key goals the highest priority into the 21st century. Commitments agreed at major UN conferences and summits during the following years, including the Millennium Summit and the 2005 World Summit, expressed the political will of Heads of State and Government. The World Summit Outcome, in particular, stressed that social development is an essential requirement for just and safe societies. Heads of State and Government also recognised the need for a wide range of actors to take on complementary responsibilities to meet international development targets and pointed to different paths for effective and sustainable development resulting from the integration of economic development, social cohesion and environmental balance.
The EU wishes to reiterate, once again, its commitment to the full and effective implementation of the goals set out in the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action as well as the spirit of the Millennium Declaration as a basis for the time-bound Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In spite of some positive developments, the key goals of poverty eradication, full employment, decent work and social integration remain major challenges for the development of stable, safe and just societies, based on the promotion and protection of human rights and the participation of all, women and men, including the disadvantaged and marginalised persons and groups.
As recognized in the 2005 European Consensus on Development, never before have poverty and sustainable development been more important. The context within which poverty eradication is pursued in an increasingly globalised and interdependent world has created new opportunities but also new challenges.
It is heartening to learn from the 2007 MDGs Report that the poorest are getting a little less poor in most regions. But it is a matter of serious concern that poverty reduction has been accompanied by rising inequality.
The National Action Plans for Inclusion, in place in EU Member States, have enabled responsible authorities to better understand the challenges that must be overcome to combat poverty and ensure an adequate standard of living for all.
Poverty is the result of various unfulfilled needs and shortcomings at the economic, social, cultural and behavioural levels. Poverty and social exclusion are multidimensional phenomena linked to societal organisation and functioning. Consequently, even in developed countries where economic and employment growth have contributed to the improvement of living conditions, pockets of poverty and social exclusion persist, calling for targeted measures for specific groups.
Tackling child poverty is particularly important because, as we all know, the reproduction of the poverty cycle deprives children in many countries, particularly girls, of the opportunities for education and health and, later on, adequate income from employment and social security benefits and retirement pensions.
States need to move away from a needs-based approach to combat poverty to a rights-based approach to social inclusion in order to overcome the lack of policy articulation and coordination that allows individuals and families to fall through the cracks of sectoral policies.
In order to overcome these challenges, policies have to be based on the comprehensive and integrated approach of social development as laid out in the Copenhagen documents. As these challenges are faced by governments worldwide, a global dialogue on social issues among the Member States of the United Nations, as equals, is imperative.
In particular, poverty eradication strategies need to articulate different sectoral measures and territorial policies thorough an interdisciplinary approach and the cooperation between public and private partners, to identify solutions to problems that often fall outside the responsibility of any specific public department.
Social protection, job creation, non-discriminatory access to employment opportunities, rights at work, social dialogue and community based local development projects, adequately resourced by relevant public and private partners are important for the establishment of minimum social standards built on the twin pillars of protection and empowerment and as a horizontal link between the different dimensions of strategies to combat poverty.
Though national Governments are primarily responsible for poverty eradication, the 2005 European Consensus on Development reaffirms EU commitment to poverty eradication, national ownership, partnership, delivering more and better aid, and promoting policy coherence for development. It has guided Community and Member State development cooperation activities in developing countries, in a spirit of complementarity.
The EU will advance policy coherence for development in a number of areas so that all EU non-development policies which are likely to affect developing countries such as trade, security and migration, contribute to developing countries efforts to meeting the MDGs.
We should focus now on the goal of full and productive employment and decent work. Transformations in the economic and social dynamics and the labour markets make it imperative that we look for opportunities for reform and progress in various areas of social and economic development, making the best of different experiences and of the bridges between Member States of a European Union that is larger than ever before.
The European Employment Strategy was launched exactly 10 years ago. Since then, there have been significant developments in employment and social protection as well as in policies and instruments at the European level. Most recently these have been associated with developments in the context of the reformed agenda of the Lisbon Strategy materialised thorough the delivery of stronger, lasting growth and the creation of more and better jobs.
The Joint Employment Report 2006/2007 has provided welcome information that the Strategy is showing results, although further efforts are needed to reach the employment targets. In fact, despite some progress over the years, and employment growth having picked up to 0.8% in 2005, the largest increase since 2001, the EU will still need 20 million jobs to achieve the 2010 target employment rate.
The responsiveness of European labour markets to the challenges of globalisation and ageing remain critical issues.
Youth unemployment is also high and a number of measures are being implemented to increase employability and provide incentives for employers so as to move towards the target of a new start for young unemployed within 4 months by 2010.
Though an increasing number of old Member States are opening their labour markets to citizens of the new Member States, labour market integration of legal migrants needs to become a more explicit dimension of employment policies.
The adaptability of workers and enterprises is also an issue that needs innovatory approaches.
The present debate on the concept of flexicurity is an example of such an approach centred on finding common principles to underpin a strategy incorporating both flexibility and security with a fair balance between the different pillars and dimensions.
The discussion is complex and still at an initial stage. Some Member States are testing its impact on national policy formulation and on the interaction of measures in the fields of employment, vocational training and social security, adapted to their economic, social and cultural contexts.
What is at stake is the exchange of traditional security in the job for security in the market brought about by cost-effective active labour market policies life-long learning and adequate levels of social protection to cover periods of unemployment and job transition.
What is needed is a balanced approach regarding issues that range from the adaptability of businesses to the modernisation of social protection systems to cover all major social risks and the removal of disincentives to work; from the internal and external dimensions of flexibility and security to the inclusion of outsiders; from life-long learning and training to the central role of social dialogue.
The implementation of the ILO decent work agenda remains high in the EU priorities. We wish to play a role in promoting the commitment of the international community to the discussion of issues that in the context of the globalisation process are strongly related to the basic conditions of citizenship for millions of people.
The third key component of the Copenhagen spirit is social integration, a cross cutting priority for the protection and support to persons and groups who are disadvantaged and marginalised in certain life cycles or due to specific limitations.
Certain common concerns, for example in relation to older persons, persons with disabilities, and people in specially vulnerable situations children and women subject to armed conflict, violence, trafficking and other kinds of abuse have given rise to greater efforts for coordinated solutions.
The EU is committed to the review of the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and the UNECE Regional Implementation Strategy. The EU will continue to contribute to further initiatives in mainstreaming the issues of ageing in national and regional policies as well as to the changes of public awareness concerning the potentials of older persons to the advantage of the economy and society as a whole.
Ageing in Europe, in most cases, is going along with longer life expectancy and relatively good health conditions. There is a great need to make better use of the large potentials, experiences, competences and creativity of elder people for the purpose of society, for the intergenerational co-operation and for the elder people themselves. Demographic ageing is, however, also creating serious financial, economic and social sustainability problems for pension schemes and long term social care and health services. There is a consequent need for reform, adequate investment in health and social infrastructure and improvements in public sector expenditure management. These are key elements in what is truly an intergenerational problem with long term implications on the European social model.
Among the greatest assets for social protection are social services that contribute positively to social and economic development. From a socio-economic perspective, social services are an important component of the infrastructure required for the smooth functioning of the economy through the full integration of women and persons with disabilities in the labour market, and for social integration through the harmonious development of children and the care of older or dependent persons.
Social services of general interest are one of the fundamental pillars of the European social model, since they contribute to the reconciliation of professional, family and personal life, to social and territorial cohesion, to local and regional development and to the dynamics of job creation. The EU is committed to deliver high quality social services that are accessible for all people.
I would like to take this opportunity to express the gratitude of the European Union to all the volunteers, who dedicate their time in federations, churches, welfare organizations and civic initiatives to social purposes and thus play a crucial role in promoting the goals of the Copenhagen Declaration and Platform of Action. The Member States of the European Union truly value their commitment, which is indispensable for the social cohesion of our societies.
The on-going European debate about the nature and different characteristics of social services will provide inputs for a broader discussion on this issue.
Finally, we would like to make a special reference to the European Year of Equality of Opportunities for All, intended to raise peoples awareness of the right to non-discrimination on the basis of gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disabilities, age or sexual orientation.
The prohibition of discrimination is especially relevant to the full enjoyment of human rights, since vulnerable and marginalised individuals and groups are particularly affected by indirect discriminatory practices or persistent patterns of societal discrimination.
This Year will be a good opportunity to promote awareness of the benefits of non-discrimination not only for individuals but also for the building of cohesive societies. It will also be important to take stock of the activities undertaken, identify policy gaps and improve measures to combat discrimination.
We are now at the midpoint between the adoption of the MDGs and the 2015 target date. As recognised in the Foreword of the Secretary-General to the 2007 MDGs Report, our collective record is mixed and much remains to be done.
We need to constantly remind ourselves of what remains to be done and to make renewed efforts to achieve our shared objectives.
The EU remains firm in its commitment to do so.
* Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.