Social inclusion as a political priority has been gathering momentum at EU level. The previous Portuguese Council Presidency hosted a social summit in Porto where all EU leaders signed an agreement on targets for social inclusion, ushered through a Council agreement on the Child Guarantee, and most recently launched the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness. On July 1, Slovenia took over the rotating European Council presidency. The question now is: will the next trio presidency partner continue the progress made?

Presenting at the meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of Ministers (EPSCO) in Luxembourg on 15 June, the Slovenian Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Janez Cigler Kralj, gave a glimpse into how his nation’s presidency will advance the social dossiers over the next six months. As Europe starts to open its societies again, for the European Social Network (ESN) a priority must be a social inclusive recovery for all vulnerable population groups that have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

What social priorities are mentioned?

According to the presentation, the main social priorities will be creating resilient, equal opportunity and inclusive societies, as well as improving quality of life for people in Europe. This seems to recognise that an effective recovery from the pandemic translates directly into ensuring the inclusion of potentially vulnerable populations such as children, older people and persons with disabilities. Planned actions in this area is a follow-up on the Green Paper on ageing, implementing a directive on equal treatment and having a policy debate on a ‘Europe of Equality’.

The social priorities outlined positively reflect the direction of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) Action Plan, such as the proposal for a horizontal Equal Treatment Directive, creating job opportunities for youth and promoting adequate pay for work. However, the from the way the current proposals have been formulated it seems as if the issue of improving life quality is framed just in terms of labour market activation. However, as Alfonso Lara Montero, ESN’s chief executive officer, underlined recently at the European Social Rights Conference, “social rights apply to people of all ages, not just those in employment. If the EU is to realise the EPSR principles, they must focus on investment to support the people, families and the communities, who have been most affected by the pandemic.

What social priorities are missing?

While taking into account that the full programme for the Slovenian presidency has not been launched yet, this initial glimpse is however glaringly missing a reference to social inclusion. As a signee of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the EU has committed itself to ‘leaving no one behind’ in building a better future. In order to achieve the ambition of fostering a truly inclusive society, promoting the social inclusion of the most affected by the pandemic such as the homeless, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and older people must also be included as a priority.

ESN’s contribution to social inclusion

ESN has been working with EU policy makers and public social services on the ground to ensure a social recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. The best way forward to prevent social exclusion in future crises is to have in place resilient public social services. To this end, we ran a working group on EU funding, shedding light on how social services can access available financial recovery mechanisms. We are currently organising an international seminar with the Slovenian presidency on the resilience and crisis preparedness of social services.

The next formal EPSCO Council meetings will take place on October 15 and December 6. At these meetings, the Slovenian presidency should steer for European leadership the common agenda on social issues not just towards employment, but also ensuring access to social services  as well as tackling social isolation, which if not done all contribute to social exclusion.

Upcoming events organised by the Slovenian Presidency

7 8 October 2021:

  • High-level conference on quality work

20 October 2021:

  • Tripartite Social Summit

9 November 2021:

  • High-level webinar on equal opportunities for children

18 November 2021:

  • High-level conference on overcoming ageing stereotypes

20 November 2021:

  • High-level conference on increasing the mobility of persons with disabilities