Belgian model to fight poverty in EU?

Belgian model to fight poverty in EU?

8th February 2010, Comments 0 comments

Under the slogan “Stop Poverty Now!” the European Commission and the Spanish Presidency of the EU has launched the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.

Belgium takes over the EU presidency in the second half of the year. “Other countries regard our social model as a realistic example,” said Belgian State Secretary Philippe Courard at the campaign launch.

The 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion campaign was launched in Madrid by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

"Combating poverty and social exclusion is an integral part of getting out of the crisis. It is too often the vulnerable in society who end up being hardest hit by the impacts of a recession. That is why the European Year 2010 should act as a catalyst to raise awareness and build momentum for a more inclusive society which is part and parcel of the EU’s future 2020 strategy that I have proposed," said Commission President Barroso.

Also present in Madrid at last week’s launch of the campaign was Belgian State Secretary Philippe Courard (Francophone Socialist).

Philippe Courard declared that the EU’s poverty policy set 10 years ago was grossly lacking. “Social cohesion, economic growth and employment have failed to form the miracle recipe,” was his conclusion.

At the conference launching the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion two ambitions were articulated. The initiative aims to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of poverty in Europe among the two key players: among the public at large as well as the governments and social partners.

The idea is to stimulate and mobilise the different partners in the fight against poverty, to promote social integration and inclusion and to encourage clear commitments in the EU and national governments.

In essence the policies to tackle poverty and social exclusion do not look much different from the policies of a decade ago. If it is up to the Belgians however, there will be one essential difference: there should be sanctions for the failure to achieve certain goals.

Belgium will take take the lead in the fight against poverty
The Belgian State Secretary was the only one at the conference in Madrid that effectively used the term ‘sanction’. “Belgium takes over the presidency of the European Union from July and other countries consider our social model to be a realistic example. That is good but it obliges us to take a pioneering role.”

A plan of action will not be easy. For example, the proposition of a minimum wage in the EU is not as logical as it might seem at first sight. A minimum wage depends on so many elements that are local and exceptional to each Member State separately. Cost of living for example is not the same in Romania as it is in the Netherlands, or Sweden!

Further, there are differences of opinion regarding the philosophical or even the practical consequences of an obligatory minimum wage. In a country like Belgium, where there is a minimum wage, one could argue that it serves to keep people poor since the Belgian minimum wage actually borders on the European poverty threshold.

There are also the practical problems as well. But Belgium has never shunned from a complicated political debate and during its six-month presidency it intends to take its responsibility and play an important role in the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.

Stop Poverty Now!
Almost 80 million Europeans – or 17 percent of people across the EU – currently live below the poverty threshold. This has found a strong echo in public opinion, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey on attitudes to poverty.

The vast majority of Europeans (73%) consider poverty to be a widespread problem in their country, with 89 percent calling for urgent action by their government to tackle the problem. While most people consider their national government as primarily responsible, 74 percent also expect the EU to play an important role.

For more information go to the campaign website. The website contains information on all the individual Member States and their programmes for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.

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