Beyond the crisis: strategic options for Social Europe by 2030

27 October 2009

Session 1: Social Europe by 2030: challenges and constraints for policy-makers

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, said Europe is an affluent society, but people now realise that increased GDP does not always enhance well-being, as this should also entail having access to health and education, a good work-life balance, low crime and a sense of security, social ties and strong personal relations.

The renewed Social Agenda launched in 2008 aims, among other things, to give young people a good start in life, and the new Commission must fight unemployment, counteract the impacts of global warming, create new economic and social models for sustainable development and build new sources of sustainable growth and develop clean technology. The aim of a strong economy is to improve people’s quality of life.

Iain Begg, Professorial Research Fellow, European Institute, London School of Economics, said Europe’s three major challenges are demographic changes, the shift to a low-carbon economy and globalisation.

What economic and social model should we use to rebuild our societies? he asked. Will the crisis be seen as a bump in the road so back to ‘business as usual’, a lost decade or will it lead to a reinvention of the EU, with a ‘smart growth’ agenda?. EU policy-makers will need clear policy orientations and strong leaders to engage better with its citizens.

R. Andreas Kraemer, Director, Ecologic Institute, Berlin, welcomed the new approach that GDP is not the primary measure of well-being, but was concerned that people would return to “business as usual”, after the crisis.

Too little attention was paid to sustainable development or environmental protection in the original Lisbon Strategy, he said. He feared the updated Strategy might still assess growth on the basis of GDP levels, while it needed to be able to address future challenges, such as the effects of climate change, forcing a radical change in lifestyles, dealing with an ageing society, and cutting pollution.

Anne-Sophie Parent, Director of AGE,said well-beingincludes having satisfying work, a decent income, good health, decent housing, social networks, physical and societal security, and a clean, sustainable environment, and hoped the Lisbon Treaty would open up new EU competencies in the area of social policies.

The next 20 years will see many challenges, such as the ageing of Europe’s population, but with the right policies we can turn these into opportunities. She welcomed President Barroso’s reference to improving the quality of social services, adding that politicians must take immediate action to address the economic crisis and other issues.

Session 2: Resources and opportunities for Social Europe by 2030

Monika Queisser, Head of the Social Policy Division, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the biggest challenge will be ageing and its effects on labour markets and social welfare systems. The solution is to increase the employment of women, younger, older, disabled and low-skilled workers, and at the same time more resources should be going to support children. In the employment field significant gender gaps still remain and there is huge potential for helping people with disabilities get back into work.

Corinna Schulze, IBM Governmental Program Executive, focused on using technology to improve well-being. It can save energy by providing consumers with smart energy meters and ‘smart grids’, and ‘intelligent transport systems’ can reduce the damage to the environment. Governments must apply new technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs, and ‘smarter’ systems can improve health care, and help small- and medium-sized enterprises. Technology can improve the quality of life, provided it is backed up by strong political will.

Professor Anton Hemerijck, Dean of the Faculty of Social Science, VU University, Amsterdam, expected the current crisis to signal the end of the current – discredited - neo-liberal model, and said predicted severe aftershocks with rising unemployment, high levels of private and public debt and low growth. He also foresaw a geopolitical power-shift towards the emerging economies and more economic heterodoxy.

He welcomed the European Commission’s ‘Beyond GDP’ project and said the period of low-growth could force politicians to focus on well-being and a better quality of life.

Robert Verrue, Director-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, European Commission, said the “European ambition” is to build better societies for citizens to lead fulfilling lives. Although many Europeans enjoy good living conditions most of them are pessimistic about their future quality of life.

The Commission believes Europe has tremendous capacities to use new technologies to create new sustainable jobs and a healthy population, and support good living standards, health, education, social relationships, environmental and physical security.  It is a broad agenda, but is essential to restore citizens’ confidence in their future.