Building the European Welfare Policy

Challenge 2

In recent years, there has been less and less talk about unemployment level and the stress is increasingly laid on measures aimed at improving employment level. It is obvious that we will not attain by 2010 the level of 70% employment as assumed in the Lisbon Strategy. Hitherto activities have brought about some positive results but they do not allow for a fundamental improvement in the situation. As a result of the enlargement, employment rate dropped by over 2% and amounts to slightly more than 62%. Time has come to undertake actions that — despite difficulties in winning social approval for them — should be implemented in the name of responsibility for the future of the European Union. They have to lead to a greater flexibility of the labour market. The European Social Model, which in many cases allows people to remain occupationally passive despite many job offers, needs to be upgraded. Currently in many member states actions are undertaken to upgrade social models. Among the most important ones is the Hartz IV programme implemented by the German government. In this field new member states are in a way in a better situation. The level of social security forces people to seek employment actively, minimizing occupational passivity. At the same time a high unemployment level gives rise to willingness to escape into pension systems, which — despite low level of income — guarantee social security. In Poland, which has the highest unemployment level and the lowest employment rate in all EU member states — the scale of challenges is even higher than EU average. Therefore activities of the Polish government go along the line of primacy of work over unemployment and occupational passivity. Performance of any job that brings income and is consistent with minimum standards guaranteed by labour law gives added value and should be given priority treatment.
With a view to improving employment in individual member states, it is also necessary to undertake such actions at the Union level that will eradicate barriers to entrepreneurship. The draft directive on services on the single market, whose entry into force should be an impulse for development of services sector — wich is the most pro-employability branch — gives high hopes.

Challenge 3

The third issue is directly linked to the two previous ones. Changes introduced to the detriment of many social groups, which undermine security level and impose new obligations, always meet with social resistance. Unfortunately the only way to cope with this problem is strong resolve in all actions. This must be complemented by an active social policy targeted at excluded persons, which will propose clear prospects of benefits ensuing from occupational activation instead of high level of social security. The worst situation would be if persons hitherto deprived of means of earning their living are not offered any other forms of securing their upkeep. Therefore an upgrading of the European social model has to be accompanied by an active state policy in the field of active forms of counteracting unemployment. This will not be possible, however, without undertaking measures lessening burdens to employers related to hiring new employees. Thus a reform of the labour law is also necessary.
In the case of a discussion on consequences of the ageing of societies, one must also not forget the univocal character of the undertaken solutions. When analyzing social programmes of many European states one can notice a priority role of measures targeted at counteracting ageing of societies through — inter alia — the raising of retirement age accompanied by playing down the problems of social exclusion of youth. In many member states of the European Union (e.g. in Italy, Poland, Spain) youth constitute the major social group staying out of employment. This leads to numerous negative social problems, which are extremely difficult to solve (e.g. crime, addictions) as well as frustration pertaining to inability to satisfy needs and lack of prospects relating to setting up of a family. This results in postponement of the decision to set up a family until undefined future, which is also related to postponement of the decision to have offspring. This contributes to a drop in the number of births and deepening of the problem of ageing in the long-term perspective. The above diagnosis brings a single conclusion. Implementation of a policy targeted at counteracting ageing of societies must not be limited to measures targeted at people of advanced age. It is necessary to expand measures that would result in a rise in employment of young people. It would be also advisable to build systems counteracting problems typical for this age group. Just as we need a pact for elderly people, we definitely need a pact for youth. In this context a significant role can be played by the European Union, which — in the frames of its activities in the scope of counteracting social problems — should give priority to youth as a major group of beneficiaries of support from structural funds. This can be of fundamental importance for quality of states in the long-term perspective.
Fundamental social reforms are difficult to carry into effect in the European Union. In this context new quality can be contributed by new member states. They bring a development potential lacked by ‘old’ member states. This is corroborated, amongst others, by indicators of economic growth rate or rate of improvement of employees’ efficiency. The European Union’s enlargement opens many new development possibilities to the entire EU. One should also remember that the new member states brought into the European Union ‘the dynamics of change’. CEECs have made an unprecedented leap in the last 15 years, which not only enabled them to access the Community but also allowed them to meet many challenges pertaining to the growing global competitiveness. The scale of changes, which have been introduced, amongst others, in Poland, is practically incomparable with what the European Union needs to do now to improve its competitiveness and maintain the foundations of the European social model. One can say that from this perspective the European Union faces a much easier task. But to accomplish this task, many member states must become infected with this optimism for changes that characterizes societies of new member states.
Summing up, in my opinion social policy implemented both at the union and national level faces many challenges. If we don’t meet them, we will face a danger of slump in European Union’s competitiveness and a decline in political significance. Without many socially difficult decisions it will be impossible to maintain the foundations (formulated a long time ago by Bismarck and Beveridge) of the European social model, which — if unreformed in the mid-term — will disintegrate altogether in the long-term. We must bear in mind that this model makes the European states positively stand out on the global arena — giving to citizens the foundations for social and economic welfare.

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