European Semester: Eurochild welcomes new priority investment areas

Newly published reports recommend priority investment areas across key children’s rights issues including ending child poverty, early childhood development and inclusive education.

On 27 February, the European Commission released its 2019 Country Reports, which provide an analysis of economic and social policies in each EU Member State. This year, the European Semester is of particular importance because it details investment priorities that will shape the programming of structural funds in every country for the next EU Budget 2021-2027. Based on our analysis of the new reports, Eurochild welcomes a greater focus on investment for children and in particular children living in poverty or social exclusion.

Background
The release of the Country Reports marks the second stage of the 2019 European Semester, an annual cycle of economic and social policy coordination of Member States. The reports by the European Commission analyse the economic and social situation in each Member State, and have over the past few years had increased visibility of the ‘social dimension’. The reports also review the progress made, if any, in Member States on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the country specific recommendations issued from the European Semester of the previous year. This is done among others via monitoring through the Social Scoreboard. The Country Reports will be followed by a response from governments of the Member States in the National Reform Programmes. In response to these reform programmes, the European Commission publishes Country Specific Recommendations to each country in June to guide and shape national budgetary planning.

Investment Needs
New to the 2019 European Semester process is the introduction of explicit priority investment areas for Member States for the effective delivery of the Cohesion Policy 2021-2027. These priorities are detailed in Annex D of each report. The introduction of these Annex Ds demonstrates a strengthening of the ties between EU’s policy monitoring mechanism and EU funding, including the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund Plus. This is an exciting opportunity for Civil Society Organisations to influence policy making as well as monitoring the spending of European structural funds. There are five different policy areas outlined under the new Cohesion Policy and in the Annex Ds. Of them, Policy Objective 4: A more social Europe – Implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights is of particular interest to Eurochild members. Across the country reports, this section identifies investment priorities that can potentially improve the lives and well-being of children across Europe, in particular those experiencing poverty or social exclusion.

Eurochild has carried out an analysis of the country reports to assist our own and our members’ advocacy efforts at national and EU level. The Commission did not publish an Annex D for the United Kingdom, due to its upcoming departure from the European Union. The following table summarises the findings of this review:

 

Theme related to addressing child poverty and social exclusion

% of Country Reports that referenced theme

% of Country Reports that included explicit priority investment areas to the theme

Female labour participation

93%

41%

Early school leaving

89%

52%

Educational attainment gap

93%

33%

Transition from institutional to family- and community-based care

81%

74%

Child poverty

89%

44%

Early childhood education and care

100%

56%

Youth unemployment and social benefits system

100%

63%

Inclusive education

96%

81%

 

Examining all 27 Country Reports together demonstrates a strong awareness for the need for early investment to address larger societal challenges for children and families in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion. For instance, Eurochild is pleased to see that the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care was recommended as an investment area in 20 of the 27 Country Reports. This is an issue championed in Eurochild’s Opening Doors campaign.

Unfortunately, there are gaps identified from our analysis of the Country Reports. Overall, there are some gaps between the country reports that refer to the social challenges in each of the Member States, and the concrete investment priorities recommended under Annex D. For example concerning child poverty (89% vs. 44%) and the educational attainment gap (93% vs. 33%). This is of particular concern to Eurochild as one of the key recommendations from the 2018 Eurochild Report on the European Semester called to make children an explicit and priority focus of the Semester.

Final thoughts
Overall, the 2019 European Semester Country Reports present a positive development towards making the European Semester ‘more social’ and valuing social goals closer to economic and employment ones. Furthermore, the publication of the Annex D: Investment Guidance on Cohesion Policy Funding 2021-2027 in the 27 Country Reports have the potential to trigger policy development. Eurochild recommends that the Country Reports be used to regularly monitor these developments in line with national strategies on poverty reduction and social exclusion. This ties into the enabling condition for cohesion policy instruments in the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027.

The ‘more social’ European Semester also has the potential to involve civil society in its implementation and monitoring. For example, last week Eurochild were invited alongside a number of members to give initial feedback on the country reports to the European Commission. Eurochild encourages similar exchanges with Civil Society Organisations at national level, and will continue to support our members with engaging in the European Semester process at both national and EU level. We are convinced this not only contributes to putting children at the heart of policy making but also the new EU Budget 2021-2027.

A useful infographic on the European Semester can be found here, and more background information is available on the Commission’s website.

At the end of April, EU governments submitted their National Reform Programmes (NRPs). You can read the NRPs here. The NRPs represent Member States’ responses to last year’s Country Specific Recommendations issued by the European Commission in May. These NRPs detail the specific policies each country will implement in their policy commitments to the Europe 2020 Strategy ranging from employment, growth and social objectives. Accompanying the reform programmes, countries also submit their Stability Programmes (for euro area countries) or Convergence Programmes (for non-euro area countries) to set out their commitments on EU budgetary and fiscal policies.

The next and final stage of the 2019 European Semester cycle will take place on June 5th with the publication of the Country Specific Recommendations. These recommendations will respond to Member States’ reform programmes as well as the investment priorities outlined in the Annex Ds of the Country Reports to guide and shape national budgetary planning for the 2021-2027 financial framework. The Country Reports, NRPs and the Country Specific Recommendations are the main strategic policy documents of the European Semester for Member States. We encourage Eurochild members to review them and monitor their implementation for strengthening national advocacy. Should you have any comments or questions please contact the Secretariat.