Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixth Report


SOCIAL EXCLUSION


(22832)

COM(01) 565

 


Commission Communication — Draft Joint Report on Social Inclusion.
Legal base:
Document originated: 10 October 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 7 November 2001
Department: Work and Pensions
Basis of consideration: EM of 9 November 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: 3 December 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but relevant to any debate on poverty and social exclusion

Background

  16.1  At the European Councils of Lisbon (March 2000), Nice (December 2000) and Stockholm (June 2001), Member States made a commitment to promote sustainable economic growth and quality employment in order to reduce the risk of poverty and social exclusion and to strengthen social cohesion in the Union between 2001 and 2010.

  16.2  As a way of tackling poverty and social exclusion, Member States agreed to draw up National Action Plans (NAPs). The objectives underpinning the NAPs were agreed at the Nice European Council. Member States were invited to present their NAPs by June 2001, covering a period of two years, and to develop national indicators and mechanisms for monitoring their progress in tackling poverty and social exclusion. On the basis of the NAPs, the Commission presents a summary report identifying good practice and innovative approaches of common interest to Member States. The aim is that Member States and the Commission co-operate in order to bring about better understanding of the problems of social exclusion and to exchange good practice in countering it.

  16.3  From 2002, this open process of co-ordination is to be supported by a five-year Community action programme on social inclusion. The previous Committee cleared the original proposal and subsequent amended proposal for the action programme on 20 July 2000 and 24 January 2001 respectively. We cleared the revised text on 17 October 2001.

The document

  16.4  The draft Communication represents the Commission's first policy document on poverty and social exclusion and is seen as part of a new process, called "open method of co-ordination", that seeks to develop the European Social Agenda as agreed at Nice. According to the Commission:

"This report marks a significant advance in the process of developing common indicators to measure poverty and social exclusion across and within all Member States. It shows that Member States and the Commission are actively engaged in this process. This will lead to a much more rigorous and effective monitoring of progress in tackling poverty and social exclusion in the future. It will also contribute to better evaluations of policies and a clearer assessment of their effectiveness and value for money. This should lead to better policy making in Member States in the future."

  16.5  The document is divided into two parts. Part one deals with the EU­wide dimension, drawing up common themes, whereas part two presents an analysis of the position in each Member State.

  16.6  As regards part one, the report notes that "the number of people experiencing high exclusion and poverty risk in society remains too high" and that "tackling poverty and social exclusion continues to be an important challenge facing the European Union". In summarising the main points, the report notes that:

  • the position on poverty and social exclusion deteriorated in many Member States as a result of economic recession in the mid 1990s, but the position stabilised between 1995 and 2000 owing to favourable economic and employment trends;

  • on the basis of latest data on incomes (1997), 18% of the EU population, or more than 60 million people, were living in households where income was below 60% of the national equivalised median income and that about half of these people had been in living such poverty for three successive years;

  • unemployment, especially when long­term, is the main factor that significantly increases the risk of poverty and social exclusion; other risk factors include "low income, low quality employment, homelessness, [poor] health, immigration, low qualifications and early school leaving, gender inequality, discrimination and racism, disability, old age, family break­ups, drug abuse and alcoholism and living in an area of multiple disadvantage."

  • there was some recognition amongst Member States of the extent to which these risk factors "interact and accumulate over time" and the "need to cut through the recurring cycle of poverty and to prevent inter-generational poverty;"

  • some Member States also identified new risk factors, such as structural changes in the labour market resulting from a period of very rapid economic change and globalisation and the very rapid growth of Information and Communication Technologies; and

  • to a greater or lesser extent, the following eight core challenges are being addressed by most Member States:

"—  developing an inclusive labour market and promoting employment as a right and opportunity for all;

—  guaranteeing an adequate income and resources to live in human dignity;

—  tackling educational disadvantage;

—  preserving family solidarity and protecting the rights of children;

—  ensuring good accommodation for all;

—  guaranteeing equal access to [and investing in high] quality services (health, transport, social, care, cultural, recreational [and] legal);

—  improving the delivery of services; and

—  and regenerating areas of multiple deprivation."

Best practice    

  16.7  As regards best practice, the report recognises that,

"it has not been possible to identify examples of good practice as at present there is a general lack of rigorous evaluation of policies and programmes in Member States. The report thus identifies that an important challenge for the next phase of the social inclusion process will be to introduce more thorough analysis of the cost effectiveness and efficiency of policies to tackle poverty and social exclusion."

  16.8  However, according to the Commission, NAPs may begin to allow some elements of best practice to be identified, such as:

"designing and delivering policies as close to people as possible; ensuring that services are delivered in an integrated and holistic way; ensuring transparent and accountable decision making; making services more user friendly, responsive and efficient; promoting partnership between different actors; emphasising equality, rights and non discrimination; fostering the participation of those affected by poverty and social exclusion; emphasising the autonomy and empowerment of the users of services; and emphasising a process of continuous improvement and the sustainability of services."

  16.9  The report presents a typology of Member States in an attempt to highlight, in general terms, their strategic approach in tackling poverty and social exclusion. The UK is grouped with Portugal, Finland and Sweden. The report notes:

"The NAPs of Portugal, Finland, Sweden and the UK are solidly underpinned by diagnoses of key challenges and risks and set out reasonably coherent and strategic approaches. The NAPs of Finland and Sweden place the fight against poverty and social exclusion very much in the context of their developed universal social protection systems which they intend to improve further through a range of very specific measures. The NAPs of Portugal and the UK are particularly strong on diagnosis and set ambitious quantitative targets. ... The UK NAP tends to focus on a number of particular issues like child poverty, problem neighbourhoods, lone parents and teenage pregnancies for which it sets out policies that are to be pursued as part of a comprehensive and integrated policy framework."

  16.10  A more detailed account of each NAP is given in part two of the report under the headings: "Situation and key trends", "Strategic approach", "Policy measures" and "Challenges ahead" for each Member State. The report makes clear that it does not evaluate the effectiveness of the systems already in place in different Member States. Instead it examines the NAPs in each Member State by focussing on the quality of analysis, the clarity of objectives, goals and targets and the extent to which there is a strategic and integrated approach. As a result, the NAPs are very descriptive. However, the report notes:

"[This process should] be enhanced in ... future by more extensive evaluations of ... national policies, [including their implications for public finance], and through the development of a comprehensive set of indicators and methodologies, at both national and EU levels."

  16.11  The report is the first in a biennial process, with the next NAPs and Joint Report expected in 2003. For convenience, we set out the next steps in this open method of co­ordination:

"—  Step 1 (Oct-Dec 2001): the analysis of the NAP by the Commission is supplemented by the Member States in the Social Protection Committee and subsequently in the Social Affairs Council. The European Parliament is expected to contribute to the debate. A Joint Report will then be submitted to the EU Council in Laeken­Brussels which is expected to define the priorities and approaches that will guide efforts and cooperation at Community level during the implementation of the first NAPs.

"—  Step 2 (Jan-May 2002): attention will concentrate on organising a process of mutual learning, supported by the new Community action programme which is planned to start in January 2002 and the set of commonly agreed indicators on social inclusion which the Council is expected to agree on by the end of 2001

"—  Step 3 (remainder of 2002): A dialogue between Member States and Commission will take place in the Social Protection Committee, building on the experience of the first year of implementation. The aim is to draw conclusions towards the end of 2002 which make it possible in the run up to the second wave of NAPs to consolidate the objectives and to strengthen cooperation.

The Government's view

  16.12  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 9 November 2001, the Minister of State for Work in the Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Nicholas Brown) says that the Government is generally content with the report and considers that "it provides a broadly accurate reflection of the situation both regarding the UK and the wider European agenda." However the Minister adds:

"The Communication contains a few points where the Commission view does not accord with the view of the Member States. The UK — and others — will be pressing for changes regarding:

"—  Technical descriptions of 'poverty'. The Government thinks that the text should emphasise more clearly the multidimensional nature of poverty and avoid over­emphasis on any single measure of such complex issues as poverty and social exclusion.

"—  The Commission has drawn up a typology dividing the different NAPs into four clusters (pages 22 and 23 of Part I refer). In effect this provides a four­way ranking, with the UK appearing in the second rank. We have doubts as to whether this approach fits in with the current process, which we think should focus on identifying good practices and innovative approaches.

"—  When discussing the major trends in poverty and exclusion across the EU the draft identifies a group of Member States that have a high 'poverty rate' and links this to their 'less developed welfare systems' (see page 14 of Part I). The UK is included in this group. We have argued against the Commission analysis that stems from a belief that similar outcomes must stem from similar causes.

"—  There are also technical concerns about the robustness of some of the 1997 data used in the draft report. The Government continues to regard this data as provisional."

Conclusion

  16.13  We recognise that this is the Commission's first policy document on poverty and social exclusion. We also recognise that it is essentially a descriptive account of the approach taken by Member States in tackling poverty and social exclusion. The report contains no legally binding recommendations and has no direct implications for Member States. Having said that, we appreciate that the process of agreeing common objectives and sharing best practice can be a valuable exercise. We note the Commission's expectation that this process of coordination will lead "to a much more rigorous and effective monitoring of progress in tackling poverty and social exclusion in the future" and will "contribute to better evaluations of policies and a clearer assessment of their effectiveness and value for money" and "better policy making in Member States in the future." We will continue to scrutinise such policy developments with interest.

  16.14  Meanwhile, we clear the document, but it will be relevant to any future debate on poverty and social exclusion.


17. We consider that the following documents do not raise questions of sufficient legal or political importance to warrant a substantive report to the House :-

  HM CUSTOMS AND EXCISE

(22799)

12628/01

COM(01) 563


Draft Decision authorising Ireland to apply a differentiated rate of excise duty to low-sulphur diesel in accordance with the procedure provided for in Article 8(4) of Directive 92/81/EEC.

  DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION AND SKILLS

(22661)

COM(01) 385


Commission Communication on strengthening co-operation with third countries in the field of higher education.

(22704)

12670/01

SEC(01) 1621


Commission staff working paper: Youth for Europe and European voluntary service — Evaluation Report.

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

(22774)

12459/01


Special Report No. 8/2001 of the Court of Auditors concerning refunds for the production of potato and cereal starch and potato starch aid.

(22798)

12575/01

COM(01) 528


Draft Decision on the conclusion of the Agreement in the form of an Exchange of Letters concerning the provisional application of the Protocol establishing the fishing opportunities and the compensation provided for in the Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Government of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau on fishing off the coast of Guinea-Bissau for the period 16 June 2001 to 15 June 2006.

(22800)

12654/01

COM(01) 559


Draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1017/94 concerning the conversion of land currently under arable crops to extensive livestock farming in Portugal.

(22828)


Draft Regulation on the conclusion of the Protocol establishing the fishing opportunities and the compensation provided for in the Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Government of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau on fishing off the coast of Guinea-Bissau for the period from 16 June 2001 to 15 June 2006.

(22835)

13172/01

COM(01) 596


Draft Regulation introducing certain temporary autonomous concessions in the form of Community tariff quotas applicable to imports into the Community of tomatoes originating in the Kingdom of Morocco.

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE

(22688)

11752/01

COM(01) 499


Draft Regulation on certain procedures for applying the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one side, and the Republic of Croatia, of the other side, and for applying the Interim Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Croatia.

(22826)


Draft Decision on a further European Union contribution to combating the destabilising accumulations and uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons in Cambodia.

(22827)


Draft Decision on a European Union contribution to combating the destabilising accumulations and uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons in Albania.

(22831)


Draft Council Common Position concerning restrictive measures against the Taliban.

(22839)


Joint Action renewing the European Union Monitor Mission.

(22840)


Joint Action appointing an EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process.

(22841)


Joint Action appointing an EU Special Representative responsible for co-ordination of the stability pact for South Eastern Europe.

(22844)


Common Position on Rwanda.

(22845)


Joint Action on EU support for a temporary multinational security presence in Burundi.

(22846)


Common Position on the EU implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373

(22847)


Common Position on the EU implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373

  DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

(22751)

12465/01

COM(01) 542


Commission Report on dietary food additive intake in the European Union.

HOME OFFICE

(22778)

12655/01

COM(01) 570


Draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 539/2001 listing the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement.

  INLAND REVENUE

(22524)

10366/01

COM(01) 344


Draft Regulation amending, for the benefit of European parliamentary assistants, Regulation (EEC) No. 1408/71 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons, self employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community, and Regulation (EEC) No. 574/72 laying down the procedure for implementing Regulation (EEC) No. 1408/71.

  DEPARTMENT OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY

(22562)

10703/01

COM(01) 274


Commission interpretative communication on the Community law applicable to public procurement and the possibilities for integrating environmental considerations into public procurement.

(22651)

11970/01

COM(01) 503


Amended draft Directive on universal services and users' rights relating to electronic communications networks and services.

(22687)

11730/01

COM(01) 486


Commission Report on the Action Plan for Consumer Policy 1999-2001 and on the General Framework for Community activities in favour of consumers 1999-2003.

(22703)

COM(01) 609


Commission Communication: Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Outline GMES EC Action Plan (Initial Plan: 2001-2003).

(22707)

COM(01) 449


Draft Regulation on the Common Procurement Vocabulary (CPV).

(22769)

12172/01

COM(01) 527


Commission Report on actions taken following the resolutions on European standardisation adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in 1999.

(22775)

12513/01

COM(01) 535


Amended Draft Regulation on the implementation of the Internet top level domain ".EU".

(22787)


Draft Decision derogating from High Authority Recommendation No. 1/64 concerning the increase in the protective duty on iron and steel products at the external frontiers of the Community (169th derogation).

(22817)


Draft Resolution on the launch of the definition phase for Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES).

  DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT, LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND THE REGIONS

    

(22566)

9613/01

COM(01) 312


Commission Opinion pursuant to Article 251(2)(c) of the EC Treaty, on the European Parliament's amendments to the Council's common position regarding the draft Directive relating to heating systems for motor vehicles and their trailers, amending Directive 1970/156/EEC and repealing Directive 1978/548/EEC.

(22744)

12297/01

COM(01) 532


Amended draft Directive on occurrence reporting in civil aviation.



 
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