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Procedure : 2017/2114(INI)
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PV 25/10/2017 - 13
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PV 26/10/2017 - 10.7
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Thursday, 26 October 2017 - Strasbourg
Economic policies of the euro area

European Parliament resolution of 26 October 2017 on the economic policies of the euro area (2017/2114(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), in particular Articles 121(2) and 136 thereof, and to Protocols No 1 and No 2,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 22 May 2017 on the 2017 country-specific recommendations (COM(2017)0500),

–  having regard to its resolution of 15 February 2017 on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: Annual Growth Survey 2017(1),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 22 February 2017 entitled ‘2017 European Semester: Assessment of progress on structural reforms, prevention and correction of macroeconomic imbalances, and results of in-depth reviews under Regulation (EU) No 1176/2011’ (COM(2017)0090),

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘2017 Annual Growth Survey’ (COM(2016)0725), to the reports entitled ‘2017 Alert Mechanism Report’ (COM(2016)0728) and ‘2017 Draft Joint Employment Report from the Commission and the Council’ (COM(2016)0729), and to the Commission recommendation for a Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area (COM(2015)0692),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 16 November 2016 entitled ‘Towards a positive fiscal stance for the euro area’ (COM(2016)0727),

–  having regard to the report of the European Fiscal Board on ‘Assessment of the prospective fiscal stance appropriate for the euro area’ of 20 June 2017,

–  having regard to the Occasional Paper No 182 on a ‘Euro area fiscal stance’ by the European Central Bank of January 2017,

–  having regard to the Council recommendation of 21 March 2017 on the economic policy of the euro area(2),

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 23 May 2017 on in-depth reviews and implementation of the 2016 country-specific recommendations,

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 16 June 2017 on the closing of excessive deficit procedures for two Member States and on economic and fiscal policies,

–  having regard to the Commission European Economic Forecast – Spring 2017 of May 2017,

–  having regard to the Eurostat dataset details on real GDP per capita, growth rate and totals of 31 May 2017,

–  having regard to the OECD statistics on total tax revenue of 30 November 2016,

–  having regard to the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union,

–  having regard to the COP 21 agreement adopted at the Paris Climate Conference on 12 December 2015,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1175/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2011 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1466/97 on the strengthening of the surveillance of budgetary positions and the surveillance and coordination of economic policies(3),

–  having regard to Council Directive 2011/85/EU of 8 November 2011 on requirements for budgetary frameworks of the Member States(4),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1174/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2011 on enforcement measures to correct excessive macroeconomic imbalances in the euro area(5),

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EU) No 1177/2011 of 8 November 2011 amending Regulation (EC) No 1467/97 on speeding up and clarifying the implementation of the excessive deficit procedure(6),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1176/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2011 on the prevention and correction of macroeconomic imbalances(7),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1173/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 November 2011 on the effective enforcement of budgetary surveillance in the euro area(8),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 473/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on common provisions for monitoring and assessing draft budgetary plans and ensuring the correction of excessive deficit of the Member States in the euro area(9),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 472/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on the strengthening of economic and budgetary surveillance of Member States in the euro area experiencing or threatened with serious difficulties with respect to their financial stability(10),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the Committee on Regional Development (A8-0310/2017),

A.  whereas according to the Commission’s forecasts, the GDP growth rate for the euro area was 1,8 % in 2016 and is set to remain steady at 1,7 % in 2017 and at 1,9 % in the EU overall, surpassing pre-crisis levels while still being insufficient with significant differences in growth rates across the EU; whereas private consumption has been the main growth driver over the past few years, while possibly moderating this year due to the temporary rise in consumer inflation, yet domestic demand is expected to drive the growth outlook over the medium term; whereas the growth in EU remains too low to create new jobs in Member States and much lower than the projected growth for the whole world;

B.  whereas the euro area and EU-28 unemployment rates were 9,3 % and 7,8 % respectively in April 2017, their lowest rates since March 2009 and December 2008; but still above the pre-crisis levels; whereas significant differences in unemployment rates remain across the EU ranging between 3,2 % and 23,2 %; whereas the euro area and EU-28 youth unemployment rates were still at high levels in April 2017, specifically 18,7 % and 16,7 %;

C.  whereas the general government deficit in the euro area is projected to stand at 1,4 % in 2017 and 1,3 % in 2018, while the performance of individual Member States is expected to be heterogeneous; whereas the general government debt-to-GDP ratio in the euro area is forecast to stand at 90,3 % in 2017 and 89,0 % in 2018;

D.  whereas global economic growth is still fragile and the euro area economy is facing increased uncertainty and important internal and external political challenges;

E.  whereas the EU’s excessively low productivity and global competitiveness calls for socially-balanced structural reforms, continued fiscal efforts and investment in Member States in order to bring about sustainable and inclusive growth and employment and achieve upward convergence with other global economies and within the EU;

F.  whereas the employment rate in the euro area grew by 1,4 % in 2016; whereas in March 2017 the unemployment rate stood at 9,5 %, down from 10,2 % in March 2016; whereas despite recent improvements, unemployment rates have not yet returned to pre-crisis levels;

G.  whereas the employment rate grew by 1,2 % in 2016 in the EU-28, and 234,2 million people were in employment in the first quarter of 2017, the highest number ever recorded(11); whereas, however, the considerable number of jobs created in relation to economic growth hides challenges, such as the incomplete recovery in hours worked and modest productivity growth; whereas if lasting, these factors may put additional pressure on long-run economic growth aspects and social cohesion in the EU(12);

H.  whereas employment rates are generally lower among women: in 2015, the employment rate for men aged 20-64 stood at 75,9 % in the EU-28, as compared with 64,3 % for women;

I.  whereas in March 2017 the youth unemployment rate in the euro area was 19,4 %, compared with 21,3 % in March 2016; whereas youth unemployment remains unacceptably high; whereas in 2015 the share of NEETs remained high and represented 14,8 % of 15-29 year olds, namely 14 million people; whereas NEETs are estimated to cost the Union EUR 153 billion (1,21 % of GDP) a year – in benefits and foregone earnings and taxes(13), while the total estimated cost of establishing Youth Guarantee schemes in the euro area is EUR 21 billion a year, or 0,22 % of GDP; whereas EUR 1 billion is currently allocated to the Youth Employment Initiative, a sum which is to be matched by EUR 1 billion from the European Social Fund for the period 2017-2020;

J.  whereas although long-term unemployment in the EU-28 decreased from 5 % in 2014 to 4 % in 2016, it remains a concern, accounting for almost half of total unemployment; notes with concern that the very long-term unemployment rate of 2,5 % in 2016 is still 1 % more than the 2008 figure; whereas wide disparities remain among the Member States;

K.  whereas in many Member States, the size of the working-age population and the labour force is continuing to shrink, notably as a result of low birth rates; whereas the employability of women, together with the ongoing arrival of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, are opportunities for Member States to deal with this issue and reinforce the workforce in the EU;

L.  whereas one of the five Europe 2020 targets aims to reduce by at least 20 million the number of people in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion; whereas poverty is decreasing, with 4,8 million fewer people at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2015 than in 2012; whereas this 2015 figure still exceeds the 2008 figure by 1,6 million; whereas 32,2 million persons with disabilities were at risk of poverty and social exclusion in the EU in 2012; whereas in 2013, 26,5 million children in the EU-28 were at risk of falling into poverty or social exclusion; whereas the at-risk-of-poverty or -exclusion rate is still unacceptably high at 23,7 %, with figures remaining very high in some Member States; whereas, moreover, energy poverty remains so high that for the 11 % of the EU population concerned, it leads to a cycle of economic disadvantage;

M.  whereas labour market conditions and performances show substantial differences across Member States, though these disparities are decreasing;

N.  whereas new forms of employment and labour are becoming more widespread with the digital revolution of the labour market;

1.  Welcomes the improved performance of the European economy, which is increasingly broadly based, supported by moderate GDP growth, surpassing the pre-crisis level, and decreasing, yet still high, unemployment rates; considers that the positive trend is due to the policies in the last few years; notes that the modest recovery, however, remains fragile and uneven across society and regions, while the development of GDP per capita is close to stagnation; regrets that economic developments remain burdened by the legacies of the crisis; notes that despite substantial progress debt levels in many Member States remain above the threshold as specified in the Stability and Growth Pact;

2.  Notes with concern that GDP and productivity growth rates remain below full potential and underlines that therefore there should be no complacency, and that this moderate recovery requires relentless efforts if it is to achieve greater resilience and medium to long-term sustainability through higher growth and employment;

3.  Notes that Europe harbours untapped economic potential as growth and employment are advancing unevenly; underlines that this is the result of the heterogeneous performance of the Member States’ economies; emphasises that the implementation of socially-balanced structural reforms and increased private and public investment both in the Member States and at the EU level could facilitate at least 1 % higher growth; recalls that economic and fiscal policy coordination in order to contribute to ensuring convergence and stability in the EU should remain a top priority of the European Semester;

4.  Takes the view that a greater degree of upward convergence and overall competitiveness would also be needed to sustain the recovery in the EU and the euro area in the longer term; considers that the existing economic and employment indicators are crucial to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth;

5.  Considers that for this to materialise the structural conditions for growth need to be improved; takes the view that the potential growth of all Member States should increase in the long term to at least 3 %; for this to happen, a stronger focus must be put on economic convergence, where establishing clear benchmarks on how to improve the potential growth of Member States could provide the necessary guidance for policy actions; points out that such a regular benchmarking exercise would have to take due account of individual structural strengths and weaknesses of Member States and pursue inclusive and sustainable growth; it should include areas such as the digital economy, the services sector, the energy market, but also the quality of public services, conditions for investment, the inclusiveness and preparedness of education systems;

6.  Emphasises that this would complement ongoing efforts on improving the quality and management of national budgets by addressing the triggers for growth in line with Union fiscal rules and with full respect of its existing flexibility clauses;

Structural policies

7.  Considers that the uneven growth and employment situation in the euro area requires better coordination of economic policies, in particular through improved and consistent national ownership and sound implementation of the country-specific recommendations (CSR), also with a view to promoting upward convergence, including through the better implementation and fulfilment of EU law; highlights that reforms need to take due account of the specific situation and challenges in each Member State; calls on the Commission to ensure the consistency between structural reforms and EU spending; recalls in this perspective also the importance of technical assistance in order to help Member States build capacity and converge a partnership-based approach could ensure greater accountability and ownership for the outcome of the implementation of CSRs;

8.   Notes that youth unemployment remains too high across the countries of the euro area and points out that an elevated, persistent youth unemployment represents a long-term structural risk; agrees that addressing the legacy of the crisis, from long-term unemployment, employment not making full use of skills and abilities, and ageing societies to high levels of private and public debt, remains an urgent priority, which calls for the implementation of sustainable and inclusive reforms;

9.  Is of the opinion that legacies from the crisis such as a high level of indebtedness and unemployment in some sectors of the economy still act as a drag on sustainable growth and pose potential downward risks; calls on Member States to reduce excessive levels of indebtedness; is concerned in this regard that the persistently high level of non-performing loans (NPLs) in some Member States could have significant spill-over effects from one Member State to another, and between banks and sovereigns presenting a risk to financial stability in Europe; notes that capital buffers in the financial sector have been strengthened, but challenges arise from low profitability, coupled with high levels of NPLs; is convinced that an EU strategy to tackle NPLs could provide for a more comprehensive solution combining a mix of complementing policy actions at national level and at European level where appropriate;

10.  Takes the view that reforms and initiatives to improve the business climate are needed to help boost productivity, price and non-price competitiveness, investment and employment in the euro area; believes additional efforts are required to boost access of SMEs to finance, which is a crucial factor for businesses to innovate and expand; underlines in this context the importance of future-oriented reforms that are adapted to the supply- and demand-sides;

11.  Considers that well-functioning and productive labour markets, combined with an adequate level of social protection and dialogue, help to increase employment and ensure sustainable growth; underlines the importance of maintaining the high employment rates where they have already been achieved; notes that skills shortage, ageing societies as well as a number of other challenges also put a strain on further employment growth and reduction of unemployment levels across the Member States;

12.  Stresses the importance of responsible and growth-friendly wage developments, providing a good standard of living, in line with productivity taking account of competitiveness; takes note of the fact that wage growth is forecast to be relatively moderate; considers that productivity growth ought to be a priority objective of structural reforms; agrees with the Commission that there is room for wage increases that could have related positive effects on aggregate consumption;

13.  Stresses that taxation levels should also support competitiveness, investments and job creation; calls for reforms in taxation with a view to improving tax collection, preventing tax avoidance, tax evasion and aggressive tax planning, as well as tackling the high tax burden on labour in Europe while ensuring the sustainability of social protection systems; believes that lowering the tax burden on labour would increase employment and foster growth; underlines that fiscal stimulus, where possible, including through lower taxes, can support domestic demand, social security, and supply of investments and labour;


14.  Agrees that the economic upswing needs to be supported by public and private investment, particularly in innovation, and notes that there is still an investment gap in the euro area; welcomes the fact that in some Member States investments already exceed the pre-crisis level, and regrets that in others Member States investment is still lagging behind or not picking up at the necessary speed; underlines that also further measures are needed to address the ‘investment gap’ accumulated since the outbreak of the crisis;

15.  Considers that reforms removing bottlenecks to private and public investment would allow for immediate support for economic activity and at the same time help to set the conditions for long-term sustainable growth; points out that investments in education, innovation, and R&D would allow to better adapt to the knowledge economy; stresses further that the completion of the Capital Markets Union is a crucial factor to attract and to increase investment, and improve the financing of growth and jobs;

16.  Considers research, technology and education to be of vital importance to the long-term economic development of the euro area; stresses the disparities between Member States in investment in these areas and points out that investment would contribute to the development of innovation and allow to better adapt to the knowledge economy, in line with the Europe 2020;

17.  Welcomes that the timely agreement on the revised European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) will help to improve the effectiveness of this instrument and to address shortcomings experienced in its implementation so far by facilitating the financing of more projects with strong potential, ensuring a strict enforcement of additionality, and to enhance geographical coverage and take-up, supporting investments that otherwise would not have been realized;

18.  Notes the different objectives of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs) compared to EFSI and therefore likewise the continued importance of ESIFs, including to support sustainable structural reforms;

19.  Stresses that a fully functioning Capital Markets Union can, in a longer perspective, provide new financing to SMEs, complementing that of the banking sector; Stresses that SMEs are the backbone of the European economy, and considers therefore that increasing their access to finance and by fighting the business uncertainty connected to their activities should be one of the key priorities, in order to improve competitiveness in the euro area; emphasises the need to reduce red tape, streamline government services and make them more efficient;

Fiscal policies

20.  Considers that prudent and foresighted fiscal policies play a fundamental role for the stability of the euro area and the Union as a whole; underlines that strong coordination of fiscal policies, the proper implementation and compliance with the Union rules, including the full respect of its existing flexibility clauses, in this area are a legal requirement and key to the proper functioning of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU);

21.  Welcomes in this regard the fact that public finances appear to be improving as government deficits in the euro area are projected to decline; however, efforts to reduce the debt burden need to continue while promoting economic growth in order to prevent Member States from being vulnerable to external shocks;

22.  Agrees with the Commission that the government debt remains high in some Member States and that there is a need to make public finances sustainable, while promoting economic growth and jobs; points out in this context that low interest rate payments, accommodative monetary policies, one-off measures and other factors alleviating the current debt burden are only temporary and highlights therefore that there is the need to make public finances sustainable, also take into account future liabilities and aim at long-term growth; points out that there is the possibility of rising costs of debt service; underlines importance of bringing down overall debt levels;

23.  Underlines that the fiscal stances at national and euro-area level must balance the long-term sustainability of public finances in full compliance with the Stability and Growth Pact, respecting its provisions made for flexibility, with short-term macroeconomic stabilisation;

24.  Points out that the current aggregate fiscal stance for the euro remained broadly neutral in 2016 and is set to remain so in 2017; reminds that the Commission called in its 2016 communication for a positive fiscal stance, while the Eurogroup after concluding that the broadly neutral fiscal stance in 2017 striked an appropriate balance agreed to underline the importance to strike an appropriate balance between the need to ensure sustainability and the need to support investment to strengthen the recovery thereby contributing to a more balanced policy mix; in this context, takes note of the first assessment of the prospective fiscal stance appropriate for the euro area by the independent European Fiscal Board (EFB) of 20 June 2017; calls on the Commission and Member States to envisage a fiscal stance appropriate to the respective circumstances;

25.  Emphasises, however, that the aggregate view should take into account the heterogeneous situation across Member States and the need to differentiate the fiscal policies required by each Member State; emphasises that the concept of an aggregate fiscal stance does not imply that surpluses and deficits in different Member States off-set each other;

Country-specific recommendations

26.  Notes that over time Member States have made at least ‘some progress’ with two thirds of the 2016 recommendations; takes however the view that the implementation of the CSRs is still lagging behind and thereby hindering the convergence process in the euro area; takes the view that the Member States bear the responsibility for the consequences of non-implementation of CSRs and expects therefore a greater commitment by Member States to take the necessary policy actions based on the agreed CSRs;

27.  Recognises that Member States have made progress in the implementation of CSRs in the area of fiscal policy and active labour market policies, while not enough progress was made in areas such as competition in services and the business environment; expects a greater commitment on the part of Member States to take the necessary policy actions based on the CSRs, whose implementation is crucial to addressing imbalances in the euro area;

28.  Welcomes the Commission’s recommendation to close the Excessive Deficit Procedures for several Member States; welcomes past and ongoing fiscal and reform efforts that have led those Member States to exiting the EDP, yet insists that these efforts will need to continue to ensure sustainable public finances also in the long term, while promoting growth and job creation; calls on the Commission to ensure the proper implementation the Stability and Growth Pact by applying its rules in a consistent manner;

29.  Notes that 12 Member States are experiencing macroeconomic imbalances of varying nature and severity, while excessive imbalances exist in six Member States; takes note of the Commission’s conclusion that there are currently no grounds for stepping up the macroeconomic imbalance procedure for any Member State;

30.  Highlights that the macroeconomic imbalance procedure (MIP) is aimed at preventing imbalances within Member States with a view to avoiding negative spill-over effects to other Member States;

31.  Considers it of essential therefore that all Member States take the necessary policy action to address macro-economic imbalances, in particular high levels of indebtedness, current account surpluses and competitiveness imbalances, and commit to socially-balanced and inclusive structural reforms ensuring the economic sustainability of each individual Member State, thereby ensuring the overall competitiveness and resilience of the European economy;

Sectorial contributions to the Report on Economic policies of the Euro area

Employment and Social Policies

32.  Takes the view that continuous efforts are needed to achieve a balance between the economic and social dimensions of the European Semester process and to promote socially and economically balanced structural reforms that reduce inequalities and promote decent jobs leading to quality employment, sustainable growth and social investment; supports using the Social Scoreboard within the framework of the European Semester; calls for a greater focus on structural imbalances on the labour market in the country-specific recommendations (CSRs);

33.  Reiterates the call for the three new headline employment indicators to be placed on an equal footing with existing economic indicators, thereby guaranteeing that internal imbalances are better assessed and making structural reforms more effective; proposes introducing a non-punitive social imbalances procedure in the design of the CSRs so as to prevent a race to the bottom in terms of social standards, building on an effective use of the social and employment indicators in macroeconomic surveillance; notes that inequality has intensified in around ten Member States and is one of the main socio-economic challenges in the EU(14);

34.  Highlights the fact that socially and economically responsible reforms must be based on solidarity, integration and social justice; stresses that reforms should also take into account sustained support for social and economic recovery, create quality employment, boost social and territorial cohesion, protect vulnerable groups and improve living standards for all citizens;

35.  Believes that the European Semester process should help to address not only existing but also emerging societal challenges in order to ensure greater economic efficiency coupled with a more socially cohesive European Union; acknowledges, in this respect, the need for an assessment of the social impact of EU policies;

36.  Calls on the Commission to secure adequate funding for fighting youth unemployment, which remains unacceptably high in the EU, and to continue the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) beyond the end of the current multiannual financial framework (MFF), while at the same time improving its functioning and implementation and taking into account the latest findings of the European Court of Auditors’ special report on youth employment and the use of the YEI; calls on the Member States to implement the recommendations of the European Court of Auditors and to ensure that the Youth Guarantee is fully accessible; regrets budget shifts out of the European Social Fund (ESF), including the YEI, towards the European Solidarity Corps, which should instead be financed by all financial means available under the existing MFF Regulation; stresses the need for a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the jobs created; stresses that EU funding should not be used to replace national social welfare payments;

37.  Underlines the fact that the implementation of the Youth Guarantee should be strengthened at national, regional and local level, and stresses its importance for school-to-work transitions; points out that special attention has to be paid to young women and girls, who could face gender-related barriers to obtaining a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship; emphasises the need to ensure that the Youth Guarantee reaches young people facing multiple exclusions and extreme poverty;

38.  Calls on the Member States to implement the proposals contained in the Council Recommendation of 15 February 2016 on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market(15);

39.  Considers that the scope, efficiency and effectiveness of active and sustainable labour market policies should be increased with proper and adequate funding with a focus on environmental, employer, worker, health and consumer protection; takes the view that the phenomenon of in-work poverty must be addressed;

40.  Regrets the fact that the social economy has been overlooked by the Commission in its package of assessments/recommendations; points out that this sector encompasses 2 million businesses which employ more than 14 million people and contribute to the achievement of the 2020 targets; calls on the Commission and the Member States to give social economy enterprises greater recognition and a higher profile, through a European Action Plan for the social economy; considers that this lack of recognition makes it harder for them to access funding; calls on the Commission to come forward with a proposal for a European statute for associations, foundations and mutual societies;

41.  Recalls the need to support and enhance social dialogue, collective bargaining and the position of workers in wage-setting systems, which play a critical role in achieving high-level working conditions; emphasises that labour law and high social standards have a crucial role to play in the social market economy, supporting incomes and encouraging investment in capacity; stresses that EU law must respect trade union rights and freedoms, comply with collective agreements in line with Member States’ practices and uphold equal treatment in employment and occupation;

42.  Calls on the Commission to build on Parliament’s resolution by putting forward ambitious proposals for a strong European Pillar of Social Rights and by fully pursuing the social objectives of the Treaties in order to improve everyone’s living and working conditions and provide good opportunities for all;

43.  Warns of the declining wage share in the EU, the widening wage and income inequalities and the increase of in-work poverty; recalls that both the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO’s 1919 Constitution recognise the need for workers to earn a living wage, and that all human rights declarations agree that remuneration should be sufficient to support a family;

44.  Stresses that wages must enable workers to meet their needs and those of their families and that every worker in the European Union should receive a living wage that not only provides for the mere necessities of basic food, shelter and clothing, but that is also sufficient to cover healthcare, education, transportation, recreation and some savings to help provide for unforeseen events, such as illnesses and accidents; emphasises that this is the decent living standard that living wages should provide for workers and their families in the EU;

45.  Asks the Commission to study how to identify what a living wage could encompass and how it should be measured, with a view to establishing a reference tool for social partners and to help exchange best practices in this regard;

46.  Recalls that decent wages are important not only for social cohesion, but also for maintaining a strong economy and a productive labour force; calls on the Commission and the Member States to implement measures to improve job quality and reduce wage dispersion;

47.  Points to the continuous need for better coordination at European level of social security systems, for which the Member States are responsible; stresses the absolute priority of ensuring the sustainability and fairness of social security systems, these being central pillars of a European social model; highlights that adequate, sustainable pensions are a universal right; calls on the Member States to ensure adequate and sustainable pensions in the light of continued demographic change; underlines the fact that pension systems should ensure an adequate retirement income above the poverty threshold and allow pensioners to maintain a proper standard of living; believes that the best way to ensure sustainable, safe and adequate pensions for women and men is to increase the overall employment rate and the number of decent jobs available across all age groups, and to improve working and employment conditions; points out that gender pension gaps remain significant and have negative social and economic consequences; highlights, in this regard, the importance of women’s integration into the labour market and other adequate measures to combat the gender-pay gap and old-age poverty; believes that reforms of pension systems and the retirement age in particular should also reflect labour market trends, birth rates, health and wealth circumstances, working conditions and the economic dependency ratio;

48.  Considers that these reforms must also take account of the situation of millions of workers in Europe, particularly women, youngsters and the self-employed, suffering insecure employment, periods of involuntary unemployment and working-time reduction;

49.  Calls on the Commission to continue to pay particular attention to the improvement of childcare services and to flexible working time arrangements, to the needs of aging men and women and other dependent persons as regards long-term care;

50.  Highlights the fact that insufficient and inadequately focused investment in skills development and lifelong learning, particularly digital skills and programming and other skills needed in growing sectors, such as the green economy, may undermine the Union’s competitive position; calls on the Member States to ensure a better exchange of knowledge, best practices and cooperation at EU level, so as to help foster skills development through the updating of qualifications and corresponding education, training programmes and curricula; notes the importance of skills and competences acquired in non-formal and informal learning environments; stresses, therefore, the importance of creating a validation system for non-formal and informal forms of knowledge, especially those acquired via voluntary activities;

51.  Takes the view that better skills matching and improved mutual recognition of qualifications is necessary to address skills shortages and mismatches; highlights the role that vocational education and training (VET) and apprenticeships can play in this regard; calls on the Commission to develop a pan-European skills needs forecasting tool, including the skills needed in growing sectors; believes that in order to anticipate future skills needs, all labour market stakeholders must be strongly involved at all levels;

52.  Urges the Commission to put in place all suitable mechanisms for greater mobility among young people, apprenticeships included; calls on the Member States to support apprenticeships and to fully use the Erasmus+ funds available for apprentices in order to guarantee the quality and attractiveness of this kind of training; calls for better implementation of the EURES regulation; highlights that better collaboration of public administrations and stakeholders at local level and better synergies among levels of governments would increase the outreach and impact of the programmes;

53.  Takes the view that access to and quality of education should be improved; recalls that the role of the Member States is to ensure affordable access to quality education and training, notwithstanding the labour market needs across the EU; notes that increased efforts are required in many Member States to educate the workforce, including adult education and vocational training opportunities; places particular emphasis on life-long learning, including for women, as it provides the opportunity to re-skill in an ever-changing labour market; calls for further targeted promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects towards girls, in order to address existing education stereotypes and combat long-term gender employment, pay and pensions gaps;

54.  Stresses the need to invest in people as early as possible in the life cycle in order to reduce inequality and foster social inclusion at a young age; calls, therefore, for access to quality, inclusive and affordable early childhood education and care services for all children in all Member States; stresses, moreover, the need to fight against stereotypes from the youngest age at school by promoting gender equality at all levels of education; encourages the Commission and the Member States to fully implement the Recommendation on Investing in Children and to monitor its progress closely; calls on the Commission and the Member States to develop and introduce initiatives such as a Child Guarantee, placing children at the centre of existing poverty alleviation policies;

55.  Underlines the profound changes ushering in the labour market of the future following the emergence of artificial intelligence; calls on the Member States and the Commission to develop instruments and cooperative initiatives, involving the social partners, to enhance skills in this sector by means of preliminary, initial and ongoing training;

56.  Calls, to this end and as a means of achieving a work-life balance, for consideration to be given to flexicurity arrangements, including teleworking and flexitime, in consultation with the social partners;

57.  Highlights the importance of investment in human capital – a driving force behind development, competitiveness and growth;

58.  Emphasises that a better work-life balance and strengthened gender equality are essential for supporting the participation of women in the labour market; underlines the fact that the key to women’s economic empowerment is the transformation and adaptation of the labour market and welfare systems in order to take into account women’s life cycles;

59.  Welcomes the proposal for a directive on a work-life balance and regards it as a positive first step forward in ensuring reconciliation of work and private life for those men and women caring for their children and other dependents, as well as in increasing the participation of women in the labour market; insists that securing appropriate remuneration and strong social security and protection are key to achieving these goals;

60.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to develop transformative policies and invest in awareness-raising campaigns to overcome gender stereotypes and promote a more equal sharing of care and domestic work, and to focus, moreover, on the right of and need for men to take up care responsibilities without being stigmatised or penalised;

61.  Calls on the Member States to put in place proactive policies and appropriate investment tailored and designed to support women and men entering, returning to, and staying in the labour market, after periods of family and care-related types of leave, with sustainable and quality employment, in line with Article 27 of the European Social Charter;

62.  Calls on the Member States to step up protection against discrimination and unlawful dismissal relating to work-life balance; calls on the Commission and the Member States, in this context, to propose policies to improve the enforcement of anti-discrimination measures in the workplace, including by raising awareness of legal rights regarding equal treatment by conducting information campaigns, reversing the burden of proof and empowering national equality bodies to conduct, on their own initiative, formal investigations into equality issues and to help the potential victims of discrimination;

63.  Underlines the fact that the integration of long-term unemployed individuals through individually tailored measures is a key factor for fighting poverty and social exclusion and will ultimately contribute towards the sustainability of national social security systems; deems such integration necessary, in view of the social circumstances of these citizens and their needs in terms of sufficient incomes, adequate housing, public transport, health and childcare; stresses the need for better monitoring at European level of the policies implemented at the national level;

64.  Stresses the importance of understanding new forms of employment and work, and of collecting comparable data on this issue, in order to render labour market legislation more efficient and to ultimately increase employment and sustainable growth;

65.  Calls for an integrated anti-poverty strategy in order to achieve the Europe 2020 poverty target; underlines the role of Member States’ minimum income schemes in seeking to reduce poverty, especially when combined with social inclusion measures that involve the beneficiaries; requests that the Member States work towards the progressive establishment of minimum income schemes which are not only adequate but ensure sufficient coverage and take-up; considers adequate minimum income to mean an income that is indispensable for living a life in dignity and for fully participating in society throughout the entire lifespan; points out that in order for a minimum income to be adequate, it must be above the poverty line, so as to meet people’s fundamental needs, including non-monetary aspects, such as access to education and lifelong learning, decent housing, quality healthcare services, social activities and civic participation;

66.  Calls for more efficient, targeted and more carefully monitored use of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds) by national, regional and local authorities in order to promote investment in quality social, health, education and employment services, and to tackle energy poverty, increasing living costs, social exclusion, housing deprivation, and the insufficient quality of housing stock;

67.  Calls on the Commission to support Member States in establishing specific investment programmes for their regions whose unemployment, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment rates exceed 30 %;

68.  Calls on the Commission to devote the next Spring Council to social investment in the sectors where there is strong evidence to suggest that it promotes social and economic returns (e.g. early childhood education and care, primary and secondary education, training and active labour market policies, affordable and social housing, and healthcare);

69.  Calls for an agenda that gives greater prominence to Parliament’s position and that takes it into account before a decision is reached; calls for the role of the EPSCO Council to be strengthened within the European Semester;

70.  Calls for additional joint efforts to improve the integration of migrants and people with a migrant background into the labour market;

Regional policies

71.  Welcomes the fact that cohesion policy funding represents EUR 454 billion at current prices for the 2014-2020 period; stresses, however, that EU cohesion policy is not merely an instrument, but a long-term structural policy that is aimed at reducing regional development disparities and promoting investment, employment, competitiveness, sustainable development and growth, and that it is the most important and comprehensive policy for strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion in all Member States, without any distinction between those inside and outside the euro area; recalls that the EU budget is 50 times smaller than total EU-28 government expenditure, amounting to approximately 1 % of EU-28 GDP; stresses, therefore, that synergies should be established between EU and Member State budgets, policy priorities, and actions and projects aimed at fulfilling EU targets, while keeping the economic and social dimensions of the EU policy framework balanced; points out that co-financing requirements under the ESI Funds are an important mechanism for establishing synergies; is of the opinion that the unity of the EU budget should be preserved; welcomes the measures introduced in the current programming period to better align cohesion policy with the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth;

o   o

72.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission, the governments and national parliaments of the Member States, and the European Central Bank.

(1) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0038.
(2) OJ C 92, 24.3.2017, p. 1.
(3) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 12.
(4) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 41.
(5) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 8.
(6) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 33.
(7) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 25.
(8) OJ L 306, 23.11.2011, p. 1.
(9) OJ L 140, 27.5.2013, p. 11.
(10) OJ L 140, 27.5.2013, p. 1.
(11) Employment and Social Developments in Europe, Annual Review 2017, p. 11.
(12) Ibid., p. 46.
(13) Eurofound report on youth unemployment.
(14) Employment and Social Developments in Europe, Annual Review 2017, p. 47.
(15) OJ C 67, 20.2.2016, p. 1.

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