Judging by their actions in recent days European leaders seem to be abandoning the most vulnerable people in Europe. At its meeting on March 25/6, 2010 the European Council failed to set targets on reducing poverty or addressing educational disadvantage. While the European Commission had proposed relatively modest targets on both issues to be two of the five headline goals for the Europe 2020 Strategy, these were not accepted by the Heads of Government. Instead they produced meaningless, aspirations in their ‘Conclusions’ published on March 26
. This failure displays a totally unacceptable lack of any sense of urgency or determination to take the necessary measures that will inject a new impetus into addressing some of Europe’s core and most intractable problems.
France and Germany among others are claiming the EU does not have the legal right to set poverty targets. Their position contradicts the recently-adopted Lisbon Treaty which explicitly allows the EU to support member states' efforts on social exclusion.
Some leaders continue to insist that if their jobs strategy works then poverty will be adequately addressed. This ignores all the evidence which shows that:
On the one hand many people at risk of poverty are NOT in the labour force and, consequently, will not benefit from job creation;
On the other hand many people at risk of poverty already have jobs. In Ireland, for example, more than 30% of all households at risk of poverty are headed by a person with a job.
A jobs strategy is essential but to conclude from that that there is no need for a poverty target is rediculous. In the original draft of Strategy 2020 a target had been included to reduce poverty by 25% by 2020. Likewise there were concrete targets on reducing the number of early school leavers and on increasing participation in third-level education.
It is long past the time for European leaders to face up to the challenges being faced by large numbers of people across the EU. Unemployment has grown rapidly. Poverty is growing. Education completion rates are being threatened.
Posturing b y German y for example, who argued their federal competences would be infringed, is not acceptable and should not be allowed to block the concrete targets on poverty and education which are so urgently required if these issues are to be addressed with the urgency they demand.
Likewise, the uninformed position of several other European leaders that poverty is too difficult to measure should be rejected with the contempt it deserves. An agreement among all member states on how to measure poverty was concluded several years ago and poverty is now measured on that basis in all countries of the EU.
Critics were quick to the brand EU leaders' conclusions on the Europe 2020 strategy a flop, warning that failure even to agree on the top five goals set by the Commission had left a lingering sense of anti-climax.