It is an honour for me to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States and to take part in a general discussion of the 50th Session of the Commission for Social Development: on review of relevant UN plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups: persons with disabilities, youth, older persons and families.
The Acceding Country Croatia[*], the Candidate Countries Turkey, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Iceland[†], the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Serbia, as well as the Republic of Moldova, Armenia, align themselves with this declaration.
Persons with disabilities
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities remains the relevant Human Rights framework to ensure the respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for persons with disabilities.
On 22 January 2011, the UN Convention formally entered into force in the European Union.
Last September the EU participated actively in the Fourth Session of the Conference of States Parties here in New York and presented the ongoing work to implement the Convention in the EU through the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020. The overall objective of the Strategy is to empower women and men with disabilities to enjoy their full rights and benefit fully from their participation in society. The Strategy defines eight priority areas of action: accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external action. It also includes a list of actions identified at EU level to complement national ones, and it determines the mechanisms needed to implement the UN Convention at EU level.
The EU and its Member States also promote the rights of people with disabilities in EU external action, including its development programmes. EU action supports and complements national initiatives to address disability issues in dialogues with non-member countries, and where appropriate includes disability and the implementation of the UN Convention, taking into account the Accra commitments on aid-effectiveness.
The effective implementation of the Convention requires a proper governance structure as foreseen in Article 33. To support this process, the European Commission organized also in 2011 a Work Forum bringing together representatives of the different national implementation mechanisms put in place in the Member States and representatives of civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their organizations, but also human rights institutions and other independent mechanisms according to the Paris Principles.
The second Work Forum offered the opportunity to discuss and exchange experiences on coordination within the implementation process of the Convention, and the reporting to the UN Committee.
Since 2008 the European Commission together with the European Disability High-level Group also publishes an annual report on the implementation of the Convention in the EU. In 2011 the report addressed the link with the targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It considered in particular progress made in the areas of education, employment and poverty reduction to close the gaps between persons with disabilities and the general population in the related Europe 2020 headline targets.
Youth employment policy is the key priority for the EU and its Member States.
Young people continue to be among the hardest hit by the crisis. Between 2008 and 2010 youth unemployment in the EU has increased by one million reaching the unacceptable level of more than 5 million unemployed young people. In total, 7.5 million young people between 15 and 24 are currently neither in employment nor in education or training. This concerns not only low-skilled young people having left school too early, but more and more, it affects third-level graduates that cannot find a first job.
Those who have a job often find themselves in a segmented labour market: most are on temporary contracts, since permanent contracts are mostly reserved for workers with longer work experience, they face a higher risk of unpaid and low-quality jobs.
We cannot afford this at a time when we are facing a demographic challenge. In Europe, the young population is shrinking, therefore its full integration into the labour market is not only in the interest of young people but it is also indispensable for the sustainable future of the EU.
Therefore tackling labour market segmentation where appropriate by developing adequate contractual arrangements, strengthening activation measures as well as promoting sustainable and high quality employment, securing decent working conditions and providing adequate income protection with clear incentives for young people, while respecting national needs and starting positions and the important role of the social partners are the EU priorities.
Our agreed youth employment policy objectives include: 1) Improving education and training systems at all levels to reflect labour market conditions and skills demand; 2) Making stronger policy efforts for improving youth employment targeting in particular young people who are neither in employment nor in education or training; 3) Promoting internal EU youth mobility for learning and training purposes and on the labour market.
The main challenge is now to step up the delivery of concrete policies and measures for young people. In this context the “Youth Opportunities Initiative” presented by the European Commission last December aims at increasing the number of apprenticeships and internships for young people in the EU.
Youth employment is a global challenge, as the findings of the ILO’s Global Employment Trends 2012 report have recently shown. Pooling our efforts at international level, including under the umbrella of the UN World Programme of Action for Youth, will help address the challenge of youth employment.
Additionally, and as outlined in our statement at the High-Level Meeting on Youth in July 2011, the EU increasingly focuses on youth issues in development cooperation and in the dialogue with partners outside the European Union. Some of our programmes benefitting youth are of world-wide scope. Finally, the EU has supported the Third Committee resolution on Policies and Programmes involving Youth adopted in November last year.
Active ageing means to promote comprehensive age – management strategies and activities.
It involves a wide agenda that includes encouraging older people to remain active by extending their working lives through paid work or volunteering; retaining and developing social networks, staying healthy – including preventative measures; and living independent and fulfilling lives.
The active ageing agenda also addresses the need to reappraise negative stereotypes of older people that assumes they have no further value to society once they have reached certain age.
The EU has designated 2012 as European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. Our aim is to raise awareness of older people’s contribution to society. We also believe that it will offer an opportunity to identify and disseminate good practice, and encourage policy makers and stakeholders at all levels to promote active ageing and to support greater cooperation and solidarity between the generations.
In 2010 the European Commission launched a major debate on pensions. One of the key questions raised concern the adequacy of pensions, the sustainability of pension systems, the adaptation of retirement age responding to increasing life-expectancy in the EU and the balance between years spent working and years spent in retirement. The European Commission will follow this up in a white paper on pensions to be adopted in February 2012 which will set out a broad common EU vision for adequate, sustainable and safe pensions.
The EU believes that it is fundamental that the concept of dignity is taken into account. This implies that elderly persons should be socially included in society and treated with respect, in particular, when in need of health and social care.
In addition, given the correlation between disability and ageing and the probability of acquiring a disabling condition in old age, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities effectively applies also to the protection of the rights of the elderly in all areas of life.
We are very pleased that this 2012 European Year for Active Ageing coincides with the 30th anniversary of the UN’s first World Assembly on Ageing held in Vienna and the 10th anniversary of the second World Assembly in Madrid. The 2nd Review and appraisal of the implementation of MIPAA and its UNECE-Regional Implementation Strategy (Berlin 2002) should be an opportunity to promote synergies and to enhance the visibility both of the UN’s and the EU’s action on ageing.
In this context, the Ministerial Conference that UNECE will hold at European level in Vienna on 19-20 September 2012 on the theme “Ensuring a society of all ages: Promoting Quality of Life and Active Ageing” will certainly represent an important step for the development and the revitalisation of strategic actions of the EU and the UN in Europe. At the UN here in New York, the EU is actively participating in the open-ended working group on ageing set up by the General Assembly’s Third Committee with a view to sharing experience and exchanging on good practice.
The increasing life expectancy and ageing of the large cohorts of the post-war “baby boom” pose a challenge to the economic sustainability of the European welfare states. Increasing labour market participation, particularly of women, is an answer to this challenge. This is a crucial issue, not only for the labour market, but also for the long-term sustainability.
The current crisis has confirmed once more the vital importance of family support measures when it comes to enhance generation solidarity and fighting poverty. For most Europeans their families are their most important social safety net. Better reconciliation policies will be crucial during the recovery phase because they allow parents to share responsibilities, to take on paid employment and to increase the earning capacity of their families.
The European Union and its Member States are developing several initiatives on families, namely to address demographic change and promote family policy evaluation, or the exchange of good practices, through specific programs, such as the European Alliance for Families, the European Demographic Forum, as well as expert groups, demonstrating the commitment of all European Union countries to improve living conditions of families.
During 2012 the European Commission will improve the functioning of the European Alliance for Families.
The European Union and its Member States are determined to cooperate in the advancement of social development. We look forward to playing an active role in the debate, aware that the Commission for Social Development is the key forum for coordinating all international efforts in an integrated manner.
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.