On 2 May 2018, the European Commission published its proposal of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the years 2021 to 2027, together with a Communication on the main priorities of next EU Budget. The European Commission promises nothing less, but a ‘New, modern Multiannual Financial Framework for a European Union that delivers efficiently on its priorities post-2020’. Undoubtedly, the European Union is facing new political, economic and social challenges. Taking into account the effects of the forthcoming Brexit, digitalisation, the refugee crisis, the growing ageing population or the urgent need for transformative actions to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, heads of States in the EU are at a crossroads to decide what priorities the EU should invest in post-2020. It is indeed time to reflect on what areas are worth the investment, or in other words, where EU money can have ‘added value’ and support initiatives that otherwise would/could not happen in and among the Member States. Whilst there may be need to invest taxpayers’ money in new priorities, such as security, or the integration of migrants, EU Member States should not forget about the existing needs of some of Europe’s most vulnerable citizens. Furthermore, the promotion of EU values and respect of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is at the heart of EU added value. Therefore, EU funding should not support any action that goes against the rights and principles enshrined in the Treaties, the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is the first international human rights treaty the EU ratified.
It is still early for COFACE Families Europe to provide a detailed analysis of the proposed EU Budget, but this is a brief overview of the main principles we want to keep from the current budgetary period for Post-2020. We are convinced that the proposal includes many promising elements. Yet, we all know that the devil is in the details. Nevertheless, it will be up to the European Parliament and Governments of Member States around the Council table to agree on a budget that is acceptable to all. This will not be an easy one.
On 30 May 2018, the European Commission will publish the Regulation of the Funding Instruments under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), including the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund. These Funds are particularly relevant for COFACE, as they support families in disadvantaged, or vulnerable situations, persons with support needs, unemployed people, segregated communities, or services run by local civil society organisations, just to mention a few. Looking at the high poverty rates, there is still a lot to do with the help of EU funding to tackle social exclusion in the Member States and foster cohesion between different regions. We are glad to see in the proposal that 25% of the European Social Fund is earmarked for social inclusion and it is not linked to active inclusion only. There are millions of people with support needs who are still institutionalized and live without choice, or control across Europe. Children with disabilities are mostly segregated from mainstream education, partially due to the lack of accessible early childhood care and education services. 80% of care is still provided by informal carers – mostly women –, who are left without adequate financial compensation, social rights, or a pension scheme, and face long-term unemployment and poverty (See COFACE’s study on the challenges and needs of family carers in Europe). EU Funding through the European Social Fund should be spent to foster their social inclusion and enable them to participate in society, through providing them with skill development, jobs, person-centred support services, or other measures.
This is the Europe we want to see.
- Strengthening alignment/cooperation between funds
We are convinced that it makes a lot of sense to link the European Social Fund (ESF) and the EU fund for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI), through a common framework along with other Funds (FEAD, YEI, Health Programme). These are very different funds, but complimentary. While the ESF targets change at local level, EaSI drives change and innovation through transnational dynamics, it is more about creating bridges between countries, and between the local and European level.
- ‘Ex-ante conditionalities’: Not the magic bullet, but a key to ensure compliance with human rights
In the 2014-2020 programming period, the Funding Instruments have provided a valuable addition to poverty reduction and social inclusion measures at the national, regional or local level. In particular, through its Common Provision Regulations (CPR), the ESIF have introduced a series of breakthrough measures through the application of ex-ante conditionalities for using the funds, providing a strong contribution to social cohesion. The ESIF have already brought positive changes to the lives of thousands of Europeans, for instance through the creation of new jobs, or by triggering transition from institutional to community-based care for children, or persons with disabilities in some Member States.
This should be celebrated as a great achievement.
However, further investment in 21st century community-based support services and family support measures, with special regard to work-life balance policies, would contribute greatly to the social inclusion and well-being of all families. The expenditure of EU funding on transitioning from institutional to community-based care and support services is one the clearest examples of EU additionality on a topic close to people everywhere in the EU. These services relieve family carers from the burden of providing informal care, contribute to the well-being and social inclusion of families by eliminating the need for institutional care. COFACE Families Europe, would therefore insist that the transition from institutional to community-based care remains an investment priority under ESF+ and is also included as an enabling condition in the Common Provision Regulations. In order to ensure sustainability of the work that has started in many Member States and to create inclusive societies, we call the European Institutions to maintain the ‘transition from institutional to community-based services’ under the ESF+ regulation during the negotiation process.
- EU Funds should never discriminate, or segregate citizens
It is within the EU funding principles to promote equality between women and men and combat all forms of discriminations. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited in the EU. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to include a horizontal principle on promotion of equality between men and women, accessibility for persons with disabilities and non-discrimination in the Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) 2021-2027 and in all Funds, specific regulations as it is now Article 7 of the CPR 1303/2013. The future Common Provisions Regulations for the period 2021-2027 will apply to all shared Management Funds (European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, the Asylum and Migration Fund, the Internal Security Fund and the Integrated Border Management Fund). The horizontal principle should be taken into account and promoted throughout the preparation and implementation of programmes, including in relation to monitoring, reporting and evaluation.
- Being real partners is a prerequisite to become Ambassadors
COFACE Families Europe is proud to have been asked by Commissioner Thyssen to be an Ambassador of the European Pillar of Social Rights. We take this role seriously as we believe there is an urgent need for a more social Europe that put its citizens first. The Pillar has the potential to become a useful social policy framework and restore European citizens’ trust in EU institutions, if it is implemented rigorously through legislation, policy and funding. Given the limited competences of the EU in the social policy field, EU Funding plays an extremely important role to fill gaps and transition social care systems to modern, community-based solutions, especially in poorer EU Member States. We are happy to see stronger references to work-life balance, gender equality and social protection in the objectives of the proposed ESF+ regulations, however, they are not going beyond mentioning existing Pillar initiatives. As a civil society organisation, in this programming period, thanks to the Partnership Principle, we supported Member States and built good relations with Managing Authorities. We would like to see an equally strong Partnership Principle that is binding on Member States to include civil society organisations in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the spending of EU Funds. If we, and our national members, are expected to carry on our role as Ambassadors of the Social Rights Pillar, the Partnership Principle must be strengthened in the Regulations to provide a legitimate framework for our involvement Post-2020.
COFACE Families Europe will follow closely the upcoming negotiations in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU on the future EU Budget to safeguard adequate social investment for the social inclusion and well-being of all families in Europe.