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What is the goal of the European Year of combating poverty and exclusion?
The primary objective of the European Year is to raise awareness in every single Member State of the European Union that poverty is a serious problem, that there are forgotten people in Europe, who cannot speak for themselves. We have to roll out new policies and make new efforts to address these problems, especially in the context of the economic crisis.
What can the European Union do concretely to combat poverty? Is this not the role of national Governments?
It is the role of national Governments, but there are expectations and legitimate demands that the EU should also contribute to this fight against poverty.
The Commission can coordinate the Member States’ actions, to support them with financial resources, and not only financial resources, but with analysis and by sharing best practices at EU level.
One of your aims to combat poverty by creating jobs, how do you propose to do this in midst of the economic crisis?
We are probably beyond the middle of the crisis, but not yet in the phase of a full recovery.
We are still in a year where unemployment will continue to rise, probably in every state of the EU. With fiscal consolidation coming in future years, it is going to be extremely hard. This is why we have to focus the available resources, like the European Social Fund, to supporting job creation or preserving existing jobs if possible.
On the issue of exclusion, what measures could be taken for the Roma people?
The Roma people came to the attention of the European Union in the last five years as a result of enlargement. We want to make sure that everyone understands that this is a pan-European problem. In various areas such as employment, housing, healthcare and education we have to devote specific targeted programmes to the communities where the Roma people live.
Indeed, they suffer not just discrimination but in certain cases segregation. There are explosive situations in some Member States which need to be targeted through specific action. The Commission is ready to support this by coordinating the efforts of these Member States, and also with financial means, a housing decision last week will make funds available.
Do you think it will be possible to have an agreement on the working time directive?
There is a commitment on the working time directive and we have to open a new chapter because previous attempts failed to bring about an agreement of the interested parties and all the Member States.
Before initiating any new legislation, we have to launch a new social dialogue about working time taking account of all the changes in the labour market that have taken place in the last twenty years, because the world of labour and employment has changed fundamentally. Once we have a clear understanding and have drawn the lessons from the crisis and have a thorough social impact assessment, we can come back to this question to see what we can initiate.
Each year since 1983, Europe has initiated a “European Year” awareness campaign designed to inform the citizens of Europe and dialogue with them to work for change in mentalities and behaviour. These European years also provide opportunities for drawing the attention of national governments to societal themes.
Of course, Each Member State has there own specific interest, especially in legislative proposals. We have to negotiate with everybody; create an understanding and make steps forward if possible.
Will the second Barroso Commission be more socially orientated?
The economic crisis makes it different. We the experience of the last year, everybody understands that the issues of unemployment and social exclusion have to be much higher on the agenda.
Find out more :
Special section on the European Year for combating poverty and social exclusion
European Commission website on EY 2010