On Wednesday 7 March 2018, the European Commission published its country reports. These form part of the annual European Semester cycle of economic and social policy coordination between the European Commission and the Member States.

The country reports are the second stage of this cycle and present an assessment of the economic and social situation in each Member State. In 2018 the recently endorsed European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) features in the country reports for the first time, offering an opportunity to re-focus attention on social issues.

More attention needed on social issues

ESN has undertaken an initial analysis of the country reports published by the Commission.

The Commission reports that Europe’s economy is undergoing its strongest growth in a decade, with unemployment almost back to pre-crisis levels. When examining the European picture on social issues across Europe, the Commission points to some groups that are less integrated in labour markets, such as women and migrants. It also looks at the risk of in-work poverty, the low impact of minimum income schemes on poverty reduction, and slow wage growth as particular areas of concern.

As frequently outlined in previous European Semester cycles by ESN and demonstrated in the Commission’s European level analysis, social issues continue to be seen through the lens of employment by the Commission. This is exemplified by assessment of the inclusion of vulnerable people largely by their rate of employment without considering other angles, such as access to health services and housing for vulnerable adults, or the long-term social inclusion of children and young people in care and their access to education. 

Scope of the European Pillar of Social Rights must be extended in the European Semester

The EPSR is used within the country reports as a benchmark to compare the Member States. This is done through the inclusion of 12 separate indicators such as the rate of unemployment, which are then compared against the EU average. However, the indicators do not give a comprehensive view of progress towards social inclusion. Many of the principles related to social inclusion, such as specific support for children in poverty, home care and community-based services, and measures to access housing and address homelessness, are not included within the monitoring table.

This means a number of issues that are key for social services are not highlighted, such as the social inclusion of children and young people in care, making progress in community care and long-term care services’ development, distinguishing the different needs of long-term unemployed people, and the broader social inclusion of people with disabilities and mental health problems.

ESN’s contribution to the European Semester

Through the work conducted by its Reference Group on the European Semester, ESN produces an annual report. The latest report ‘Bringing together Europe and local communities: Social services priorities for the European Semester 2018’ highlighted a number of key social issues including the enduring impact of public spending cuts on vulnerable groups, growing levels of housing exclusion, and the need to integrate migrants following the refugee crisis.

The Reference Group consists of public social services representatives, who offer their own insights on social issues requiring attention within their country from the perspective of social services, who then make their policy recommendations to the Commission.

The publication of the Commission’s country reports signals the beginning of the 2018 round of analysis conducted by ESN’s Reference Group, which will present their findings to EU representatives in June, before their work is collated in ESN’s annual report to be published before the start of the 2019 European Semester cycle.

Please contact William Hayward for further information on ESN’s work on the European Semester.