We can only rebuild trust in Ireland’s role in Europe if commitments to social justice, equality and environmental sustainability are delivered
An Alliance of ten Irish civil society organisations (the Better Europe Alliance) today made a presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs to highlight the importance of delivering on Ireland’s and Europe’s social and environmental targets. Currently, both Ireland and the EU are taking a narrow view of economic development, prioritising fiscal targets, in contrast to the balanced economic, social and environmental programme agreed by all the EU’s Prime Ministers in the 10-year Europe 2020 Strategy.
The Alliance today presented its analysis of the Country Specific Recommendations made by the European Commission to Ireland in June this year to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs. They called on the Committee to monitor the delivery of the recommendations.
The seven recommendations, which cover macroeconomic and other areas including employment, low work intensity households, the cost of health, the SME sector and the banking sector are intended to highlight issues to be given particular priority in Ireland’s delivery of the Europe 2020 Strategy.
The Alliance expressed concern that, while many of the recommendations can be considered positive from a social and environmental point of view, a narrow interpretation of the first recommendation on macroeconomic reform could effectively makes the rest impossible to implement, particularly where investment is required. (This recommendation calls on the government to make the expenditure ceiling more binding by limiting the statutory scope for discretionary changes.)
Michelle Murphy from Social Justice Ireland said that:
“The European Semester process is supposed to be a balanced process, but so far austerity policies have dominated the response to the crisis across the EU and some targets, such as the poverty reduction target, are being ignored. There are now 6 million more people in poverty in the EU since the target was set to reduce the number by 20 million people by 2020. In Ireland more than one in four people is now experiencing material deprivation. The current approach is causing great social damage so we cannot continue in this imbalanced way”.
Alice-Mary Higgins from the National Women’s Council commenting on the recommendation on measures to support households where there is little work, stated that
“We welcome the proposal to improve access to more affordable and full-time childcare. However, we need to see this recommendation implemented in a smart and sustainable way. For example for this proposal to work we need to have real, long term investment for publically subsidised childcare places”.
Bríd O’Brien from the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed welcomed the proposal to increase the level of support provided by the new Intreo employment and welfare services and to ensure a seamless referral system between Intreo and the new Education and Training Boards. She said that:
“This is a positive proposal but, as well as ensuring the services are adequately resourced, we need to see a more supportive culture across the Government’s employment services, with less reliance on harsher conditions. The vast majority of people who are unemployed are very eager to get back to work. We also need to end the exclusionary practice in our employment services and make them open to those who want their support but who are not on the live register. And critically to make the whole strategy work, we need to ensure that decent jobs are available.”
Michael Ewing of the Environmental Pillar said that the Recommendations seem to be developed in an ad-hoc manner, leaving some crucial areas such as housing unaddressed and others such as climate change only touched on briefly. He commented that
“We welcome the proposal for increasing the environmental friendliness of the tax system, through making the polluter pay. However the absence of a specific recommendation on climate change is extraordinary given that action on climate is one of the three key elements of the Europe 2020 Strategy. But sadly this is an example of the imbalanced way the overall strategy is being implemented”
Paul Ginnell of the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland, concluded that
“We are now at the mid-point of the Europe 2020 Strategy. Policies in the first half of the decade have done much damage to what was to be a balanced social, environmental and economic strategy. At the same time there has been little public debate on these different EU commitments apart from begin told we have no choice. What we now need is a political commitment at EU and national level to improving the level of debate and engagement in the type of society we want in five years’ time and how we get there”.