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Throughout 2016, ESN has worked with 25 members and partners to analyse the state of play of social policies and services across Europe. With our newly published report featuring 25 country profiles and a cross-country analysis, ESN brings the perspectives of local public social services into the European Semester debate, whose 2017 cycle is about to start.

ESN and the EU Semester

Introduced in 2011, the European Semester is the yearly cycle of economic and social policy coordination between the European Union (EU) and its Member States. Every year, the process kicks off with the publication, in November, of the European Commission’s Annual Growth Survey.

In the past three years, ESN has worked with up to 25 members and contributors (one per country except Malta, Luxembourg and Slovakia) to bring social services to the forefront of the European Semester, and to enhance the social dimension of the whole process. Indeed, the European Semester is often accused of focussing on economic and fiscal issues.

This report is the result of our work throughout 2016 to identify key issues and challenges in each country (eg: social services’ financing, availability of childcare, use of EU funds for social inclusion, etc.). We sent 25 individual questionnaires (one for each member of our Reference group on the European Semester). Based on the input we received, and in cooperation with the European Social Observatory (OSE), we have drafted this report, which features:

  • A cross-country comparison along 10 key themes, from childcare to social services for migrants and refugees
  • 25 country profiles
  • 25 alternative country-specific and social services related recommendations
  • Concluding messages and recommendations on the way forward

The objective of this analysis is to provide evidence-based input to the Commission’s 2017 country reports, and to bridge the gap between the local, national and European levels. ESN also hopes to support its members to have a role in EU Semester-related negotiations at the national level.

Key messages

Important messages emerged from our analysis of social policies and services at the local level. They concern the European Semester process itself, and how to tailor it to the reality of local communities around Europe. They also suggest ways to use the Semester to have a positive impact on the lives of European citizens, especially the most vulnerable – among which are children, people with severe mental health problems, homeless people and refugees.

Key messages (available in section 5 of our report) are the following:

  • Despite a move towards greater dialogue between the EU and its Member States in the past two years, regional and local authorities are rarely involved in EU policy making and evaluation. This is all the more important since many countries have increasingly decentralised the planning and provision of social services, devolving more power to local administrations.
  • Regardless of national social welfare systems, common challenges exist. This shows the importance of cross-country feedback and the need for EU-wide efforts towards better welfare systems and service provision, especially for vulnerable groups.
  • The fallout from the financial crisis remains significant for several countries. Fiscal consolidation continues to jeopardise social investment and ‘socially sustainable’ societies.
  • Despite budgets constraints, positive, innovative trends must be noted. For instance, the increased use of evidence-based policy and practice can benefit both social services professionals and service users.