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The European Social Network (ESN)’s Reference Group on the European Semester was launched in 2014. By providing input from a local perspective on the European Semester process - the cycle of economic and social policy coordination with EU Member States – the Group aims to bring issues related to service planning, provision and management to the forefront of EU policy-making.

Every year, Group members undertake analysis of the European Commission’s country reports and Country-specific Recommendations (CSRs), by answering targeted questions drafted by the ESN policy team. The Reference Group meet once a year, usually in September, to wrap up the issues stemming from the questionnaire and to discuss priorities that the EU Semester should address.

Professionals working on social services and policy have participated in a series of meetings held since 2014. 

In 2021, the European Commission did not hold the European Semester cycle of policy coordination with Member States so that national  authorities could instead focus on submitting  their National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) to access funding for essential reforms in the aftermath of Covid-19. ESN instead has been shadowing this process, assessing the submitted NRRPs so as to investigate how they foresee funding for social services reforms. To this aim, the Working Group on EU Funding for Social Services was launched.

ESN members met on 27 May to discuss their views and engaged in conversations with MEPs responsible for following up the social aspects of the NRRPs in the Working Group on the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) of the Budgetary and Economics Committees of the European Parliament. The webinar aimed to evaluate the implementation of EU social priorities and investments in social services in the NRRPs and create a space for the exchange of relevant experiences between ESN members.

The outcomes of the meeting and the analysis provided by the ESN’s members in the questionnaires have been gathered into the report “Funding Social Services Recovery. Anchoring Social Services in Post-Covid National Reform Plans”.

In 2020, the ESN’s Reference Group met to discuss three important principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). The principles identified by members of the Reference  Group as most relevant for social services were: Principle 11 – Childcare and support to children; Principle 18 – Long-term care and Principle 18 – Long-term care. The outcomes of discussion and questionnaires completed by ESN’s members informed the report: “Investing in Social Services, Investing in Europe. Social Services Essential for Europe’s Recovery”.

Due to the current COVID-19 crisis the meeting with European Commission, on 22-23 September, was held online.

The 2019 the ESN’s Reference Group work covered three policy areas which were particularly relevant for social services: poverty and social protection; social housing and homelessness and quality of social services. Key findings were published in the report “Social Services for a Social Europe. European Semester 2020”.

This report was shared with the European Commission to inform the next cycle of policy analysis and recommendations of the European Semester as well as with member states representatives. The Group members were also encouraged and supported to meet national government representatives in their countries to discuss the findings.

In 2018 the ESN’s Reference Group discussed numerous issues connected with services quality and governance; coordination between social and employment services and the role of EU funding in promoting social services. Special attention was given to the problems of housing and homelessness; early school leaving and youth (un)employment; long-term care and social inclusion of persons with disabilities and persons with mental health problems. Based on the observations collected in the Member States, a report was prepared “Connecting Social Services to Europe. European Semester 2019”. 

In addition, the Group met with European Commission officials on 28-29 June. The meeting gave the opportunity for the group members to discuss in person some of the issues raised  in their questionnaires and their views on the European Semester cycle with officials from the European  Commission. It also provides Group members with the chance to engage in mutual learning with each other,  by discussing common social issues in their countries.


The 2017 meeting of ESN’s Reference Group allowed for assessment of the 2017 European Semester process and a reflection on the group’s key messages from 2014 to 2017. Other important issues covered in the meeting were the implementation of the proposed European Pillar of Social Rights, how economic aspects of the Semester and EU policy are linked to social ones and group discussions on a range of thematic areas particularly relevant in 2017.

On November 2017 we published the annual EU Semester report 'Bringing together Europe and local communites: Social services priorities for the European Semester 2018'. Like most years it features a cross-country analysis, along with country profiles which details the key messages and themes that will need to be taken into account when planning the next EU Semester cycle for 2018.

At the 2016 meeting, in Brussels, participants provided input on the (then) new Commission’s initiative, the European Pillar of Social Rights. Among the topic of the meeting were: social protection, housing, deinstitutionalisation and social services for migrants and refugees.

In November 2016, we published our annual EU Semester report ‘Connecting Europe with local communities. Social services priorities for the European Semester 2017’. It features a cross-country analysis, country profiles and the presentation of recurring themes that have emerged when analysing the 25 countries, translating into a set of key messages to be taken into account for the planning of the EU Semester cycle for 2017.

The 2015 meeting took place in Brussels. Among the issues addressed were the impact of austerity policies on public social services management and provision, territorial competences and disparities, the sustainability of EU funded projects, evidence-based policy-making, and active inclusion, housing and long-term care.

Based on our 2015 findings, we published our report 'Looking ahead: Local social services priorities for the European Semester 2016, where we provide a cross-country analysis, country profiles and recommendations on social policy priorities.

The first meeting, in 2014, took place in London. Discussions between ESN members, EU Commission officials and European social policy experts discussed the challenges and opportunities of the EU Semester process, as well as its relevance for social services.

The outcomes of the 2014 activities are presented in our report:  ‘Connecting Europe to Local Communities. The view of local public social services on the European Semester 2014. The key messages and an overview of the report can be found in the dedicated news article.