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Connecting Europe with those responsible for social policies at local level is crucial for ensuring that European policies are effectively implemented, and the needs of people and communities are adequately addressed.

This is particularly true for local social services, which play a crucial role in implementing European policies related to social welfare, inclusion, and community development, many of them linked to the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) and the recent declaration signed at the Hulpe in the context of Belgium Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

While this declaration sets broad frameworks and objectives, which we share, it is at the local level where these principles are translated into actionable initiatives that directly impact individuals and communities. This is especially relevant for social services that are responsible for delivering a range of social welfare and social inclusion programmes and services to residents within their jurisdiction. These include public health, housing support, childcare and child protection, employment support for those furthest from the labour market, care for people with disabilities and older people with chronic conditions, and support for refugees. 

Local social services agencies are key in translating overarching European policies and principles into concrete actions and measures while ensuring compliance with EU standards. They are responsible for conducting individual and collective needs assessments to identify the social, economic, and demographic challenges facing their communities. They collaborate with other services and public agencies, third sector organisations, community groups, and businesses, to address social issues collectively. Finally, they represent the interests of their communities in resource allocation, addressing specific needs, and ensuring that European policies are responsible to local realities.

We welcome that the declaration signed in La Hulpe highlights “the right and freedom for everyone to access public services and services of general interest of high quality, including social services and essential services, which are crucial for both social and territorial cohesion and sustainable competitiveness.” However, the declaration makes no reference to the pivotal role of regional and local authorities in the translation of European policies into tangible benefits for people communities by delivering essential services, like social services, conducting needs assessments, fostering collaboration, monitoring outcomes, and implementing principles and policies. 

A lack of consultation with the social affairs departments of regional and local authorities has been identified by ESN in the past as a key reason for inadequate implementation of European principles and policy proposals. I do not know why the Committee of the Regions did not sign the Hulpe declaration, but taking into account that social policies have been decentralised to regional and local authorities in most Member States, there should have been an acknowledgement of their role in ensuring implementation. The participation of local and regional authorities’ social affairs departments in EU level discussions should be improved to support implementation of the EPSR principles, and for greater ownership of the process.

Local social services have been at the forefront of fighting multiple crises, ensuring implementation of the EPSR principles. Therefore, prioritising investment in local social services to respond to the social challenges highlighted in the Hulpe declaration is critical to ensure resilience. In our recent European elections briefing, we highlight the importance of promoting sustainable financing, a review of the social services quality framework, a European social services workforce strategy, and a community care guarantee initiative to build more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable communities. Supporting local social services in implementing EU social rights principles is crucial for ensuring they are effectively translated into actions for the benefits of all citizens.