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27 February 2017

European states are not doing enough to reduce inequality

The Bertelsmann Stiftung has given most EU Member States poor marks in combating inequality. The reforms needed to improve access to high-quality education and training for all, particularly people with an immigrant background, are insufficient. ‘EU member states still have a long way to go before achieving a “social triple-A rating”,’ the German organisation states in a recent report.

On 21 February, the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Germany’s largest private not-for-profit institution, published a survey of a panel of around 1 000 European social policy experts. While it is clear that there is a need for more social cohesion throughout Europe, the experts report that most governments have not carried out the reforms needed to reduce social inequality. The situation is particularly challenging with respect to access to high-quality education and training for all and the integration of immigrants.

The experts agree that there is a need to weaken the link between students’ learning success and their socio-economic background. The measures taken in many countries have clearly not improved the educational achievement of young people of modest origins. Quite the contrary, the report states that reforms in the United Kingdom have intensified inequality, singling out the increased university tuition fees following the British Government’s September 2012 higher education reform. Only Malta and Romania find favour with the experts questioned by the Bertelsmann Stiftung. These two countries have adopted programmes to ensure equal access to education.

The second difficulty in connection with inequality reduction policies concerns most European states’ failure to address the integration of foreigners. Only Italy was given a positive score in this respect. According to the report, the reforms undertaken in Spain, Austria and Denmark have accentuated the marginalisation of people of immigrant origin.

‘EU Member states still have a long way to go before achieving a “social triple-A rating”,’ the report’s authors claim provocatively. On 22 October 2014, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, informed the European Parliament in Strasbourg that he wanted Europe to have a social triple-A rating, which he believed was just as important as an economic and financial triple-A rating.

While the outlook presented by the Bertelsmann Stiftung is generally pessimistic for social Europe, it should nevertheless be noted that south-eastern Member States have invested substantially in combating social inequality since they joined the European Union.

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