It is an honour for me to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States and to take part in a discussion on the priority theme of the 50th Session of the Commission for Social Development: poverty eradication.
The Acceding Country Croatia[*], the Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Iceland+, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia align themselves with this declaration.
Poverty reduction is a worldwide challenge and we remains fully committed to combating poverty worldwide in line with the Millennium Development Goals. I will address this key dimension in the second part of my statement.
Higher risk of poverty and social exclusion and growing unemployment rates reflect the on-going and far-reaching social impact of the crisis which many countries are facing. In the European Union alone around 116 million people are considered at risk of poverty or social exclusion, as defined by the “Europe 2020” poverty target.
Young people are faced with higher unemployment rates and they are consequently exposed to worsening living conditions. As one of the worst affected groups by the crisis, young people require particular attention. Other groups, like children, women, migrants, the elderly, and people with disabilities have also been disproportionately affected by the impact of the crisis and are particularly exposed to the risk of poverty and social exclusion. Single parents and larger families constitute new categories of people particularly vulnerable to poverty and the poverty risk is increasing also among those who have a job.
Urgent action is needed.
We need to put economic growth, job creation and social cohesion at the centre of our macroeconomic policies. This approach was confirmed by the G20 Leaders when they met last year in Cannes. It is also at the heart of the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact to set out options for employment and social protection measures and the Pact remains a valuable tool.
In the EU, employment, poverty reduction and social inclusion are at the centre of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The same goes for the country-specific recommendations in which economic, employment and social targets go hand in hand and reinforce each other.
The Europe 2020 Strategy is based on the fundamental conviction that economic and social objectives contribute to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The EU has set a European target to reduce the number of people living at risk of poverty and social exclusion by at least 20 million by the year 2020. It is backed by EU targets raising the employment rate and the education level.
In order to achieve this target, the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion flagship initiative sets out concrete actions. The aim is to mobilise social protection, employment and education policies, as well as EU instruments, including the European Social Fund.
We work on preventing the transmission of poverty through generations and tackling child poverty, regardless of their social background. We make education and training systems more inclusive at all levels and for all ages. We aim at using employment as a route out of poverty through the green economy and active inclusion strategies that combine adequate income support schemes, inclusive labour markets and quality social services. It is an EU priority to tackle poverty among the elderly namely ensuring that pensions are adequate and pension systems are sustainable. And we are stepping up efforts to integrate minority groups from social and economic point of view, like the Roma people.
Actions also relate to the quality of social services, health inequalities, homelessness and housing exclusion. Gender equality policies are needed to tackle the gender income gap. And addressing the specific forms of discrimination and exclusion faced by people with disabilities requires interventions across a range of different policy areas.
2012 is the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.
Reaching the EU’s poverty and social inclusion target requires a combination of efforts as well at the EU and at national, regional and local level. It requires bringing on board a much wider range of stakeholders, including social partners and NGO’s, as well as the participation of people experiencing poverty.
Fighting poverty does not necessarily mean spending more. Most of the upcoming decade is likely to be marked by reduced public budgets, and a key aim is to shift reforms towards greater efficiency combined with effectiveness and fairness. Social innovation should help us identify where resources will have the most impact.
Efforts to eradicate poverty are a key part of the EU’s development policy and the external dimension of EU policies, as enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty.
Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, the EU and its Member States have been increasingly supporting developing countries in their efforts to reduce poverty together with international organizations and other relevant actors. We have done so in particular through access to primary education, water and health and the promotion of decent work. We have also done so by means of trade policy, and by reinforcing democracy and good governance to emphasize how the respect, promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of the effective work towards achieving the MDGs.
There has been encouraging progress on many dimensions of poverty eradication during the last decade. However, still 1.4 billion people live with less than 1.25 $ a day. There is a need to bolster our efforts, building on the successful outcome of the MDG Summit in September 2010.
As a response to the challenges ahead, the European Commission adopted last year a policy document entitled “Agenda for Change” setting out the EU’s new development policy for the coming years. Inclusive and sustainable economic growth is crucial for poverty reduction. However, not only growth rates are crucial but growth patterns are equally important. The EU aims at encouraging more inclusive growth characterized by people’s ability to participate in and benefit from wealth and job creation.
The achievement of the MDGs remains the EU’s and its Member States’ first priority.
We firmly believe that the MDGs can be achieved if all partners demonstrate strong political commitment, implement the necessary policies and take concrete actions. Being the largest donor, the EU has a specific responsibility. We reconfirmed in June 2010 our commitment to meet the 0.7% of the ODA/GNI target by 2015. At the same time, the EU reconfirmed its strong determination to make [official development assistance] ODA more effective and to the acceleration of the implementation of the aid effectiveness principles, as well as to increase the coherence of its other policies for development.
We stress the importance of identifying innovative sources of financing at global level as well as the need to mobilise developing countries’ own domestic resources. Development policy needs to become a catalyst for the building up of developing countries’ own capacities to mobilise their economic, natural and human resources in support of poverty reduction strategies. We believe that job creation through inclusive and sustainable growth can lift more people out of poverty than development aid alone. Better design and integration of adequate income support, inclusive labour markets and access to quality services can substantially improve skills and employability of those outside the labour market.
There is strong evidence that well-structured social transfer programmes are an efficient and effective way of enabling large numbers of the poorest people to escape from poverty and become economically active. Employment policies aimed at creating decent jobs and progressive fiscal policies have to go hand in hand with protection against vulnerability and risks of falling back into poverty.
At the same time employment creation and social protection have proved to be efficient policies to mitigate the negative social effects of the crisis and should therefore receive more attention in development cooperation.
In this context the EU and its Member States strongly support efforts to extend social protection systems and welcome related initiatives such as the UN social protection floors promoted by the ILO and WHO. In this regard we welcome the Bachelet report on ‘Social Protection Floors for a Fair Globalization’ as an excellent contribution to the discussions on social protection. We reaffirm the support for the Social Protection Floors initiative voiced by the EU at the ILO International Labour Conference in 2011. We underline our readiness to contribute on this topic with a view to achieving ambitious results.
This year The European Commission will present a Communication on Social Protection in Development Cooperation, which will set out the role EU development cooperation will play in supporting the strengthening of social protection policies and systems.
We also believe that a transition to a green economy should contribute to meeting key goals of sustainable development, poverty reduction, sustainable and inclusive growth and generation of quality employment, including for youth. In this context we look forward to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the so-called Rio+20, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil from 20-22 June 2012.
Thank you for your attention.
[*] Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
+ Iceland continues to be a member of the EFTA and of the European Economic Area.