On the 18 and 19 of September the Finnish Presidency of the EU hosted in Helsinki the High-Level Conference on the Economy of Wellbeing, organised by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Similar to the values of the 2018 reflection seminar of COFACE Families Europe on “Economics at the Service of Society”, economy of wellbeing is about going beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP), redirecting economic resources and and expenditure on people’s health, education and quality of life, ensuring inclusion and equal opportunities for all. It is about looking at the long-term rather than at the short-term and it is and the heart of the Scandinavian welfare model.
The aim of this Presidency is to mainstream this vision at EU level, showing that wellbeing of people is a prerequisite for a sustainable economic growth which benefits all. Wellbeing means that people are healthier, more innovative and productive, they work, and pay taxes. Investing in education and training gives a significant boost to economic growth and efficient preventive health services pay for themselves many times over. Promoting gender equality, creating more employment opportunities for women and helping people reconcile work and private life are all key objectives in terms of sustainable economic growth: a higher level of gender equality would raise the GDP by 6.1–9.6% by 2050, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality.
During the conference, speakers agreed on the fact that the EU did not make the best choices in the last years: its financial integration went too far and too fast, due to an excessive trust the market efficiency, while overlooking the instability. This made Europe vulnerable to the financial crisis and things went worse with austerity, which led to an erosion of the welfare and tax states, more inequalities and limited possibility for states to act and redress the situation. As it now clear that markets failed to address what matters, it is time to rethink the economic rules of the EU. The economy of wellbeing can help in this shift, by putting the social and the green dimensions at the centre of the European model. It was argued that this is fundamental to preserve the European identity and to respond to the many challenges of the present, including the burning issue of climate change.
Participation of civil society is key in making this model work and the Social Platform of European NGOs contributed to the discussion with the following proposals, by its president, Piotr Sadowski:
- Enhancing policies, legislation and the European economic governance system to promote equality and fight poverty in Europe. The path of the European Pillar of Social Rights should be paved with effective investment in people.
- The meaningful involvement of civil society in all stages of the EU decision-making process – including the design, implementation and monitoring of policies and legislation – in order to shape decisions based on experiences on the ground.
- The establishment of an annual Social Summit, bringing together Heads of State and Government, EU institutions, civil society organisations and other stakeholders, to take stock of social developments and monitor the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Agenda 2030
If practice makes perfect, this might be time for Europe to move from words to action and make a social shift which would reinforce its founding values. COFACE Families Europe and its partners will keep on calling for this and support the Finnish Presidency in this effort.