On 22 May, the European Commission published the Country Specific Recommendations for 2017.
EUROCITIES welcomes the stronger emphasis on local level as well as the increased focus on social priorities. However, despite some progress in balancing social and economic objectives in the CSRs, EUROCITIES believes that more can be done. Firstly, the social scoreboard for the European Pillar of Social Rights should be integrated into the European Semester. Secondly, member states should do more to translate CSRs into reforms. Thirdly, local authorities should be involved in shaping the national reform programmes.
The Commission's communication reveals that the EU economy is recovering, but the recovery is still unevenly distributed and inequalities are persisting across member states. For this reason, “this year addressing inequality is firmly at the heart of our [Commission’s] assessment. We have turned the page of the crisis: the next chapter is social”, announced Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for employment and social affairs.
The key messages from the country-specific recommendations are:
There is a stronger emphasis on local level. Explicit references to local or municipal level were included in the analysis accompanying the CSR reports for nearly half of member states. However, EUROCITIES is disappointed that the Commission omitted local authorities from the list of partners with which member states need to consult in the elaboration of the national reform programmes.
The social dimension of recommendations has improved, but it is still undermined by the insistence on reducing deficits. EUROCITIES counted 32 recommendations on social issues including on investing in a range of services such as employment, housing, education and care services. In its communication, the Commission called explicitly for making social priorities a key part of the reforms, placing a stronger focus on investment in social infrastructure and taking into account the distributional impacts of reforms. However, the CSRs on budget sustainability and reducing deficits remain predominant, and the Commission is insisting on social spending cuts in several countries. Therefore, while some progress was made, a real shift from the rhetoric of austerity to social investment is still awaited.
The European Pillar of Social Rights mentioned, but not yet embedded in the European Semester process. Despite the anticipated link of the Pillar to the European Semester, this has not come to fruition in the 2017 cycle. It is disappointing that the CSRs have not addressed the principles and social rights enshrined in the Pillar, nor have they integrated the social scoreboard. This is however promised to be embedded in the European Semester in the coming years.
Progress in implementation of the 2016 CSRs remains limited. In fact, between 2011 and 2016 only one in ten CSRs has been fully implemented, one in seven had substantial progress while a third of CSRs have seen limited or no progress. To restore trust in the European Semester process, the Commission needs to obtain stronger commitments from member states to put in practice the reforms needed.
Signs of shift from EU2020 agenda to UN 2030 agenda. It is now clear that the EU2020 target on poverty reduction will not be met by 2020. Yet, instead of mitigating this failure, the Commission surprisingly chooses not to refer to the Europe 2020 strategy or its targets neither in the communication on the country-specific recommendations nor in that on the Pillar. On the other hand, increasing reference is made to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This indicates that the Commission is slowly shifting gear towards a new agenda for 2030 while not yet publicly calling for the replacement of EU2020 strategy. EUROCITIES is in favour of integrating the SDGs, together with their strong urban focus, in EU policies and calls upon the Commission to work in partnership with city authorities to ensure the new agenda is fit for purpose.
Next, the EU ministers will discuss the recommendations before the EU heads of state and government are due to endorse them. It is then up to member states to take up the recommendations in their national reform programmes for 2017-2018.
© Photo credit: European Commission