European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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18 July 2011

Frank Vandenbroucke calls for EU social investment pact

The European Union must adopt a social investment pact argued former Belgian Minister of Social Affairs Frank Vandenbroucke at the ETUI’s Monthly Forum on 30 June, unveiling two recent publications on the idea.

Social investment emerged in the late 1990s as a concept going beyond the welfare state. Proponents argue that social policies can no longer just be benefit systems but must drive a long-term investment strategy that fits people to cope with new social risks and new economic conditions.
Put simply, it could be said to be about investing in human capital rather than compensating. But that is not to say that the social safety net legacy of the welfare state should be scrapped, cautioned Frank Vandenbroucke, firing a warning salvo against the many attempts to re-route the idea down a free-market road. In fact, support for a minimum wage is a priority of the social investment plan he advocates, along with education and training, child care, work-life balance, inclusion of migrants in the labour market, and a flexible pension scheme.
The demographic challenge facing the European Union requires a social investment programme, he argues, not least to have a well-educated population to make up for the forecast decline in the working population.
This prompts the former minister to issue a mixed scoresheet on the Lisbon Strategy whose social aspect aimed for Europe to have more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. Despite rising employment in the EU between the early 2000s and the outbreak of the 2008 financial crisis, poverty has not really receded, as evidenced by the unchanged number of households in which not a single person works.
While he has no illusions about the outcomes of the Europe 2020 programme which takes over from the Lisbon Strategy, Frank Vandenbroucke nevertheless believes that the advocates of a more social Europe should use it as a "boomerang", i.e., a way of bring the Barroso Commission face-to-face with its social commitments - Europe 2020 aims to lift 20 million Europeans out of insecurity at a time when France and Germany are trying to force swingeing austerity measures on Europe as a whole.
The former minister therefore suggested the Commission should select ingredients from the social investment cookbook, but warned the would-be masterchefs that social investment has to be well-resourced and carefully blended with macroeconomic and fiscal policies. In short, it means going for the full three-course meal rather than cherry-picking the menu.

More information:

The EU needs a Social Investment Pact

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