The 2015 Country-Specific Recommendations (CSRs) for Member States were published by the European Commission (EC) on May 13th. The European Social Network (ESN) and its members will be examining their content and the relevance given to public social services in the framework of our Reference Group on the European Semester.

This year, the EC published fewer, more targeted and shorter CSRs in an attempt to have a more focused approach. However, this has meant a smaller visibility for social issues, and particularly the key role of public social services in promoting economic and social development.

Neglecting social services?

Whilst ESN recognises that there is some acknowledgement of issues related to social exclusion and social services provision in the country reports and the text supporting the CSRs, overall only six countries have received a recommendation addressing social services in some form. Social services do not seem to be a priority and their range and importance are not satisfactorily captured, which may send the wrong signal to governments across Europe.

The CSR’s in Focus

The recommendations focus mainly on fiscal consolidation and welfare benefits, employment and health systems. There are some references to the modernisation of welfare systems; for example, ensuring public administration rationalisation, reducing overlap between government levels and fragmentation. However, there is no reference to much needed investments in social work and care services, the importance of improved needs data, service quality inspection, developing an evidence-based approach or modernising social protection through preventative local community services.

Though there has been a decrease in the number of countries with excessive deficit procedures, fiscal austerity has had detrimental economic and social impact across a number of countries’ social protection systems. ESN’s visits to Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain revealed that a high price has been paid by instituting cuts too deep and too fast to social protection systems. This has resulted in important progress within the last 10 years actually being rolled back in these countries. Social welfare spending accounts for more than a fifth of subnational public expenditure and therefore, it is a key policy area for promoting economic and social development in order to ensure a sustained recovery from the crisis.

Follow up

The European Social Network and its members working in senior positions in public social services will be assessing the 2015 national reform programmes and the country specific recommendations in the framework of our Reference Group on the European Semester. For further information about our 2014 analysis, please visit our website.