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2001 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 14/69

5.4. It is vital that an effective network be established for should be a periodic appraisal of the results achieved, not only
disseminating good practices at local level. It is also worth in terms of jobs created but also of their quality, and an
publicising experiences that did not achieve the desired results, analysis of the progress, growth or ‘mortality’ of small and
as lessons can be drawn from the mistakes. At all events, there micro-enterprises.

Brussels, 19 October 2000.

The President
of the Economic and Social Committee

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Decision of the European
Parliament and of the Council establishing a programme of Community action to encourage
cooperation between Member States to combat social exclusion’

(2001/C 14/14)

On 24 July 2000 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 137
of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the
Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 3 October 2000. The rapporteur was Mrs
Cassina, the co-rapporteur Mrs zu Eulenburg.

At its 376th Plenary Session (meeting of 19 October 2000), the Economic and Social Committee adopted
the following opinion by 99 votes in favour, two votes against and two abstentions.

1. Introduction 1.2. The proposal aims to create a dynamic and open

framework of cooperation between the Member States who
have or will set up national action plans to combat exclusion.
The aim is to work together in a coordinated and mutually
1.1. The proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament supportive manner to achieve the objective of greater social
and of the Council establishing a programme of Community cohesion, based on a better knowledge of the phenomenon of
action to encourage cooperation between Member States exclusion and commonly defined criteria for analysing and
to combat social exclusion (henceforth referred to as ‘the addressing it.
programme’) comes in the wake of the strategic goal (1) for the
next decade mapped out by the Lisbon Council.
1.3. The objectives of the programme are to improve the
understanding of exclusion, to organise policy cooperation
and mutual learning in the context of the national action plans
and to develop the capacity of actors to address social
(1) ‘The Union has today set itself a new strategic goal for the next exclusion, in particular through networking at EU level.
decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-
based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic
growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.’—
Lisbon Council, Presidency Conclusions (point 5). ‘The number of
1.4. The actions provided for consist of:
people living below the poverty line and in social exclusion in the
Union is unacceptable.’Lisbon Council, Presidency Conclusions — analysis of the different aspects, causes and trends in
(point 32). social exclusion, collection of comparable statistics and
C 14/70 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 16.1.2001

development of common methodologies and thematic 2. General comments


— policy cooperation and exchange of information and best

practices on the basis of qualitative and quantitative
indicators and benchmarks with periodic monitoring; 2.1. The Lisbon Council stressed the need to modernise the
European social model by investing inhuman resources and by
combating social exclusion: the information society will be
— promotion of dialogue involving the various stakeholders built for and by all European citizens, fostering both the
and support to European-level networks of NGOs active quantity and quality of skills, in a social context aimed at
in this field. eradicating poverty and promoting social cohesion, including
through cooperation at the European level. Far from being
weakened, European competitiveness will benefit from an
equitable and modern social model: a better balance between
economic development and social cohesion will prove to be a
1.5. The Commission will ensure the implementation of unique and specific asset of the EU with regard to third
the programme, maintaining the necessary contact with all the countries and will be the hallmark of its contribution and role
actors concerned and fostering an integrated and coordinated in the international arena.
approach to combating social exclusion. The Commission is
also to promote the involvement of the parties concerned and
identify actions eligible under the programme.

2.2. Putting social cohesion back among the EU’s top

1.6. All institutional and social stakeholders will be called priorities therefore constitutes a decisive turning point,
on to contribute to the success of the programme. attaching the importance it deserves to human development.
This change in thinking must be translated into a series of new
actions, policies and attitudes. In terms of the fundamentals of
democracy, the ESC would point out that the Lisbon approach
reaffirms the close link between the struggle for social cohesion
1.7. The proposal provides for an action programme to and basic rights as defined by the UN, the revised Social
combat social exclusion lasting five years. The overall funding Charter and possibly soon also — provided that work of the
allocation is EUR 70 million, divided between analysis of social Convention on fundamental rights produces a good result
exclusion (27,6 million), policy cooperation (between the which is accepted by the Member States — by the Treaty.
Member States) and exchange of information and good practice
(29.3 million) and participation of stakeholders and EU
networking (13,1 million).

2.3. The ESC notes that now, for the first time in many
1.8. The programme is to be implemented in such a way as years, the EU’s economic situation constitutes the ideal frame-
to ensure the consistency and complementarity of action work conditions for focusing attention on social and human
undertaken, as well as consistency and complementarity development and that European governments have made
with other Community policies, instruments and actions, serious commitments in this regard (1). It is also interesting to
particularly those associated with the Social Fund and the note that business is increasingly concerned with the need to
EQUAL programme. promote social cohesion as a means of consolidating the
strategies and process of development. It is therefore extremely
important that all pathways are explored in the fight against
exclusion and that such an initiative does indeed provide new
opportunities for all. The ESC recalls that the Communication
1.9. Cooperation is also to be established with the entitled ‘Building an inclusive Europe’ (point 5.1.1, fourth
EFTA/EEA countries and the associated countries of Central indent) pointed out that the time was ripe for ‘taking advantage
and Eastern Europe, as well as Turkey, Malta and Cyprus. The of the economic growth expected for the next decade in order
programme will be open to these countries in accordance with to invest in active participation for all with a view to reducing
the conditions established in existing agreements (or those to in the long run the need for and the burden of social transfers:
be negotiated). in other words, restructuring public expenditure towards active

1.10. The legal basis of the programme is Treaty

Article 137(2), subparagraphs 2 and 3, in conjunction with
Articles 2 and 136. (1) See Copenhagen and Copenhagen + 5.
16.1.2001 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 14/71

investment and forward looking adaptation and away from using approved criteria which are necessary if the process of
passive transfers.’ Following this approach, a special effort cooperation is to be tackled correctly. On this point the ESC
must be made in combating social exclusion to provide a firm would draw attention to the progress report of the High Level
foothold for the excluded in the labour market and in society. Working Party on Social Protection (2) which, with a view to
In particular, the ESC would highlight the need to break down defining the indicators needed to evaluate the various situ-
the barriers preventing those having been excluded from ations, suggests as a first step the in-depth examination of
entering the labour market by removing the obstacles facing the following broad themes: income, employment, living
certain particularly disadvantaged groups and individuals (e.g. conditions and comfort, consumption, high-risk situations and
those with major family commitments, the disabled, the social participation. The ESC welcomes this approach but feels
unskilled, those with psychological problems and those that the themes should be expanded upon, taking account of
recently released from prison). Given that participation in the both traditional profiles of exclusion and those which may
labour market is a necessary condition, but not always arise from new risks.
sufficient in itself, the ESC would also emphasise the need for
specific and well targeted measures to tackle the bedrock of
marginalisation so as to break the vicious circle which makes
poverty and exclusion a perverse heritage passed down from
one generation to the next. It is important in this context to
2.5.1. Among the priorities, the ESC calls for a focus on the
recognise the crucial role played by social protection schemes
risk of new instances of exclusion, particularly in the context
and particularly the need to provide safety nets offering a
of the knowledge society (not having the required know-how
minimum livelihood to all those in need (monetary benefits as
may push many people towards marginalisation, but being
well as goods and services). In particular, it is also necessary to
illiterate or leaving school unable to read or write may be a
promote a culture of inclusion which can inform political,
recipe for permanent exclusion in the knowledge society);
economic and social choices.
attention should also be centred on the chronically low-paid
(who may be forced into exclusion at the first setback which
reduces their earning capacity), those with low employability
(who are forced to seek ever more precarious, unskilled and
poorly paid jobs), those working on fixed-term contracts such
that their working lives are interspersed with frequent periods
2.4. In its opinions (1) the ESC has also on numerous of unemployment, moving populations (both third-country
occasions highlighted the need to take account of the reality immigrants and those constantly on the move in search of
of social exclusion and poverty in the various policies and sources of income), older workers and those whose retirement
programmes. These are very complex phenomena which pensions are insufficient to live on. Carrying out an analysis of
cannot be tackled with simplistic analyses and much less with risks of exclusion as a matter of priority is a preventive
miraculous across-the-board remedies which in many cases measure which should involve all the Community institutions
merely serve to make things worse for the excluded. The ESC and Member States.
can appreciate that the approach to the programme taken
by the Commission is one of prudence, being a sort of
methodological preliminary to the actual work of combating
exclusion, but deplores the fact that the content and funding
of the programme do not go far enough in exploiting
the favourable climate created by the Lisbon decisions, the
Communication on Building an inclusive Europe and, recently, 2.6. The ESC feels that the extent of social exclusion in the
the Social Agenda. EU, its trends and the risk of new cases warrant a bolder
approach in at least four areas:

— a better, and different, definition of the priorities, includ-

2.5. Furthermore, the draft programme could have defined ing the development of innovative and concrete initiatives
certain priorities for cooperation between Member States. The and approaches on the ground (which are excluded
phenomena of exclusion and poverty need to be clearly under the Commission proposal, but possible under
targeted and addressed in a comprehensive manner, and it is Article 137(2) of the Treaty (3)) of an exemplary nature
regrettable that the title of the proposal is limited to ‘social based on concerted action between the various stake-
exclusion’ alone and that, in the text, the two phenomena are holders and run as part of a network;
not always referred to as going hand in hand. No time should
be lost in clearly identifying the many facets of the problem

(2) Progress report of the High Level Working Party on Social

Protection — Brussels, 18.5.2000, nr. 8634/00.
(3) ‘The programme would not co-finance micro projects on the
(1) See in particular the opinion on Costs of poverty and social groundaimed at dealing with social exclusion at local, regional
exclusion in Europe (rapporteur: Mr Burnel) — OJ C 284/98 and national level and at benefiting the excluded directly.’
(p. 7). (Explanatory Memorandum, point 5.)
C 14/72 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 16.1.2001

— accordingly, an increase in funding to be distributed the objectives to be addressed in combating exclusion (2), and
differently: the proposed budget is far too small to cover the initial contributions by the Working Party mentioned in
activities on the ground, even if limited to those which point 2.5 have already proven valuable.
are exemplary in terms of the methodology followed and
their success in bringing firm social integration without
the risk of slipping back into marginality;

— the need to take account of social cohesion as an objective 2.8. Among the stakeholders involved in the programme at
in all Community decisions and policies (1) (including all levels should be the Community authorities, the Member
macroeconomic, financial, industrial, competition and States, the regions and local administrations, the social partners
agricultural policy) and establishment of a viable screen- and NGOs working with the excluded, but also those actually
ing system making it possible to: evaluate in advance the suffering exclusion and poverty, who should be given the
content of policies and decisions; propose accompanying opportunity to organise themselves and to participate in the
measures to prevent new cases of exclusion; and assess programme. It is understood that the category NGOs includes
the impact of policies and decisions affecting social organisations of the people concerned and mutual assistance
cohesion after implementation, suggesting remedies organisations as well as associations providing social services
where necessary; and developing social actions. However, there are two key
players who are crucial to the success of the programme:
firstly, national governments who bear the chief responsibility
for combating exclusion, and secondly, civil society organis-
— a clearer call to the Member States to define plans for ations (the social partners and NGOs) at European level. The
combating exclusion including from the start a timetable responsibility and capacity to involve other players at national,
and quantitative and especially qualitative objectives for regional and local level are crucial here: the success of the
eradicating poverty. programme largely depends on the effectiveness of partici-
pation mechanisms at all levels. Thus it is important for the
Commission to remain open to the participation of networks
(even new networks (3)) which might identify areas of potential
and innovative measures in the fight against exclusion and
2.6.1. Provided that such action really does bring a lasting poverty, especially in creating enabling environments as a way
change to the circumstances of those currently enduring out of exclusion.
exclusion or poverty, investment in combating exclusion pays
high dividends, both social and economic. With this in mind,
the ESC would urge the European Parliament to play a role in
modifying the programme in the way described (support for
concrete and innovative activities and approaches) and, in its
capacity as the budgetary authority, to review the level and
especially the distribution of funding for the programme 2.9. The draft programme also lays emphasis on the
accordingly. development of networking. The ESC shares this view, but
would stress that networks which are effective at combating
exclusion involve a range of players of differing status: national,
regional and local governments, social partners, NGOs,
religious institutions etc. Effective ‘polymorphic’ networks will
have to focus their activities on the goals agreed by common
2.7. The draft programme emphasises the need to develop accord. Administrations must be aware of the problems, take
integrated and complementary measures and to create a highly responsible attitude and be willing to cooperate
maximum synergy with the European Employment Strategy, (including with other tiers of administration). They will
programmes and actions provided for under the European therefore be required to demonstrate political flexibility as well
Social Fund and the strategy for modernising social protection as ensuring optimum management of the resources available.
systems. The ESC firmly supports this approach, but regrets Success in combating exclusion is never achieved by one
that the wording of the Decision is quite vague, even mislead- political force alone, but by administrations which are able to
ing. It should be clearly indicated that all programmes under mobilise all their citizens, including first and foremost the
the ESF should verify their consistency with the objective of excluded themselves. The ESC would stress the crucial import-
social cohesion. Furthermore, there is no mention in the text ance of involving the local and regional levels and civil society
of the role of the High Level Working Party on Social organisations at these levels. That is why the ESC is keen to be
Protection even though the Lisbon Council stated that the able to cooperate on the programme with the Committee of
Working Party will be involved in the Council’s work to define the Regions.

(1) as indeed pointed out in the Communication ‘Building an inclusive (2) Presidency Conclusions, point 32.
Europe’, points 2.4 and 5.1 — COM(2000) 79 final. (3) Contrary to what is provided for in the annex, action 3.1.
16.1.2001 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 14/73

2.10. The ESC notes that procedures to join the programme — provide support in the systematic screening of policies,
must be clear, simple and free of red tape; this provides a greater legislation and measures to ensure consistency with the
guarantee of transparency than complicated procedures. The objective of social inclusion;
same procedural clarity and flexibility are required in
developing the ‘open method’ which must never remain within
the confines of decision or policy-making institutions without — give its opinion on the development of the programme.
having benefited from the participation of other stakeholders.

3. Specific comments
2.11. The ESC is somewhat disappointed with the proposed
measures: while it agrees with the Commission that it is crucial
to establish criteria for a common approach and for reliable 3.1. The ESC urges that the title of the programme should
and harmonised statistics in the analysis of exclusion, it cannot also refer to poverty, as follows: ‘Proposal for a Decision of
endorse the importance accorded to ‘studies’ and ‘research’. the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a
These areas would receive generous funding from the pro- programme of Community action to encourage measures to
gramme (EUR 5.1 million for thematic studies and EUR combat social exclusion and poverty in particular and to
4,6 million for expert work and specific studies), with the promote social inclusion.’
inherent risk of resources being spread too thinly with no
guarantee of any resulting benefit in the actual fight against
exclusion. The ESC would point out inter alia that the quantity 3.2. The Council of Europe’s revised Social Charter should
and quality of those studies on the subject already available also be cited in whereas (2).
should be reviewed first.

3.3. The ESC is pleased to note that it is mentioned in

whereas (3) as one of the institutions and bodies which have
2.11.1. In this context, the ESC, in collaboration with the called for greater efforts to combat social exclusion.
COR, will explore the possibility of setting up a body
for observation, liaison, monitoring and support with the
participation of interested European NGO networks and the
European Parliament. Without being cumbersome, this body 3.4. In Article 1, insert ‘within a framework of shared
would be made up of eminent and knowledgeable personalities responsibility among all the operators concerned’ after
appointed by common accord of the ESC, the COR, the ‘between Member States’.
European Parliament and the NGO networks involved. Its task
could be to:
3.5. In Article 2(2) reference is made to the need to
mainstream social cohesion in all policies. The ESC very much
— interlink European, national and local networks and endorses this, but regrets that the proposal goes no further
establish contacts and ongoing collaborations with than this statement: this mainstreaming should be one of the
national, and where appropriate, regional observ- key elements of the programme (which would entail no cost
atories (1); whatsoever as it depends solely on the political will of the
actors concerned).

— examine and evaluate existing studies and research on

exclusion and poverty; 3.6. The Objectives (Article 3) should be reworded as

— monitor the programme regularly and collate the results ‘— improving the understanding of social exclusion and
and knowledge gained; poverty in order to reach a common definition of the
criteria and parameters to be applied in combating social

— assess initiatives and especially to identify best practice

with a view to disseminating it and supporting the mutual — organising policy cooperation and mutual learning in the
learning process; context of national action plans based on common

— developing the capacity of actors — including those

suffering exclusion — to work effectively for social
(1) Drawing in particular on the experience of the Copenhagen cohesion through exemplary actions and to develop
follow-up committees. networks at every appropriate level.’.
C 14/74 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 16.1.2001

3.7. In Article 4(1) (Community actions), rewrite the first supposed to define the criteria and objectives to be adopted in
indent as follows: combating exclusion. In any event, the political role of the
ECSP in implementing the programme should be explicitly
‘— definition of criteria for analysing the multidimensional referred to in the text of the decision.
nature of the causes, processes and trends ... etc.’.
3.11. Article 8(1) mentions a series of policies in which the
Add a new indent at the end of the paragraph as follows: Commission, in cooperation with the Member States, is to
ensure overall consistency with the present programme. The
‘— direct support for exemplary initiatives and approaches
to combat exclusion based on the best synergies between ESC endorses this, but urges the Commission to extend this to
the various institutional and social actors working in other policy areas, notably taxation, economic and monetary
policy, competition, consumer protection and agriculture.
networks which have the potential to provide new ways
forward, particularly in terms of consolidating inclusion,
preventing relapses into exclusion and redistributing 3.12. The ESC is pleased to note that, in Article 9 (Partici-
opportunities.’. pation of the EFTA/EEA countries, the associated countries of
Central and Eastern Europe, Cyprus, Malta and Turkey), the
programme is opened to the candidate countries in particular,
3.8. Insert a new paragraph as Article 5(3) to set up an
but would also stress the need to develop consultation with
observation, liaison, monitoring and support body along the
these countries and to carry out an in-depth examination with
lines proposed in point 2.11.1 of this opinion.
them of current social exclusion and its trends, making
provision in the pre-accession strategies for a range of aid
3.9. Article 6 (Financing): the ESC urges that the reference measures — including financial — to combat exclusion
amount should be increased, especially if the programme is to effectively, particularly by supporting the modernisation and
support innovative and concrete actions and approaches on improvement of their social protection systems.
the ground as requested.
3.13. As regards Monitoring and evaluation (Article 10),
3.10. The ESC would point out that the Committee referred the ESC wonders if it is appropriate to wait until the end of
to in Article 7 should be a management committee: it is not the third year for the first evaluation, believing that an interim
clear why it should be consulted on ‘the annual plan of work report by the Commission services to be submitted perhaps
for the implementation of the programme’s actions, and the two years after the programme’s entry into force could help to
Commission proposals for selection criteria for financial improve the targeting of initiatives in the second half of
support’ (Article 7(3), third indent). Defining the ‘selection the programme itself. Furthermore, the ESC expresses its
criteria’ is a delicate matter which entails a political interpret- willingness henceforth to provide any assistance that may be
ation of the programme and its objectives. This would be deemed useful in the work of monitoring and evaluation,
better entrusted to the European Committee on Social Protec- trusting that the Commission will seek its opinion on the
tion (ECSP) which according to the Lisbon Conclusions is report.

Brussels, 19 October 2000.

The President
of the Economic and Social Committee