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The European Social Network (ESN) reflects on the country reports which have been recently developed and disseminated by the European Commission. Based on our initial assessment, we can conclude that more indicators should be defined and implemented to monitor the implementation of all principles within the European Pillar of Social Rights.

On 26th of February, the European Commission published the winter package of the European Semester: an analysis of key socio-economic challenges in all Members States. ESN’s Reference Group on the European Semester* analysed the reports of the 25 country represented in the Group and has three main overarching comments to share:

  • The current Social Scoreboard indicators do not cover all the principles included in the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). For example, principle 18 ‘longterm care’ and 19 ‘housing and assistance to the homeless’ do not have specific indicators despite being analysed in the country reports. Including indicators for these principles would offer a more comprehensive picture of the key social challenges in each country, and would offer a better overview of their actual implementation.
  • Macroeconomic data is not presented against an assessment of the implementation of the national/regional/local strategies adopted in each country in a particular social policy area. For example, in the assessment of poverty levels, there is not a consistent review of the national strategies to fight poverty. Only France and Spain reports mention the national strategy and offer a review of their implementation. Reviewing national/regional/local policies would be useful in terms of addressing the implementation gaps of the policies that are adopted at national level, make the case for proposing the adoption of new policies or evaluating the outcomes of the policies in place.
  • Only few countries present an assessment of the public social services sector. Key social challenges are addressed by all the professionals working in the social services sector, therefore it is important to have a clear picture of the challenges they are facing in terms for examples of workforce and funding.

A closer look at the social challenges addressed in the country reports

The most recurrent topics in the country reports presented in the Winter Package are:

  • Poverty-related issues and adequacy of social protection systems were reported in 23 out of 25 and 21 out of 25 country profiles. While general poverty levels have dropped compared to last year’s due to improved labour market conditions, this is not the case for many of the populations with whom social services work. Reports identified rising levels of child poverty especially among vulnerable families or single-parent households, and higher risk of poverty and social exclusion among persons with disabilities, migrants, Roma and older people.
  • Housing and homelessness were reported in 16 out of 28 country reports. Lack of access to affordable housing is a key issue for many countries and places additional pressure on social services. Moreover, some countries still lack national strategies defining ‘homelessness’ and tackling more systematically the rising number of homeless people. Public social services are highly impacted by this rise and have a key role to prevent evictions.
  • Long-term care was reported in 16 out of 25 countries as an issue by itself, whilst others reported it under healthcare. There is a general lack of national strategies to tackle long-term care, which still relies in many countries on informal family care and in some cases on residential or institutional care. In last year’s report, ESN Reference Group highlighted that the public social services sector is responsible together with health services of the quality of long-term care. However, there are still many challenges linked to the workforce and carers to provide quality long-term care and home care.
  • Social services: Just 7 out of 25 country profiles focussed on social services organisation and workforce and just 3 out of 25 on the lack of integration between social and employment services. Common challenges concern the lack of workforce, difficulty to access public services especially in rural areas, lack of strategies and funding to develop community-based services and unclear division of responsibilities between the different levels of government. In last year’s report, ESN Reference Group also flagged fragmentation and lack of integration as main challenges.

ESN Reference Group’s next steps

ESN Reference Group members select every year the themes they would like to assess in the framework of the European Semester. In 2020, they opted for children’s and family support services, long-term care, and housing and homeless support. These three topics reflect three specific principles of the EPSR. The Group is currently working on the answers to a questionnaire which will form the basis of the report that will be published in October 2020.

*ESN Reference Group on the European Semester was established in 2014. Each year the Group follows the cycle of the European Semester and publishes a report based on the expertise and views of public social services.


ESN (2019). Social Services for Social Europe. European Semester 2020.

ESN Reference Group on the European Semester

Factsheet: topics per country.