Eurodiaconia members provide social services and work for social justice across Europe. The Eurodiaconia secretariat facilitates exchange of best practice and works to increase the capacity of its members to participate in social policy design at national and European levels. Looking at the ever-increasing interconnection between the regional, national and European policies levels, it was felt that an introductory-level training module on social policies would be an important tool for empowering Eurodiaconia members to advocate for better social policies at national and European levels.
This training module therefore aims to provide a basic knowledge of what the European Union is and its impact on social policy (including social services) so that our members can better understand the impact of EU decisions on their work, and how to respond to them.
It starts with a general introduction of what the European Union is and its structure, provides a basic history of the place of social policies in the EU and then focuses on the current debates: What is the place of social policies today in Europe? What are the important challenges to tackle and then some of the proposed ways forward? Finally members can test their knowledge with the quiz or contact the secretariat for any follow-up questions.
To put it simply, social policies are in theory the responsibility (‘’competence’’) of national governments. But the reality is rather different and EU decision-making has a strong impact on local, regional and national social policies for the following reasons:
- policies decided at EU level often have a social impact, and many therefore argue that the European Union should have a social policy strategy and give more attention to the social impact of its economic policies;
- the social situation in one country is likely to affect its neighbours, this constituting a strong argument for at least some sort of practical cooperation between Member States on common challenges such as unemployment, poverty and migration;
- and last but not least, even if the organisation of social systems seems very different across Europe, there is actually a strong argument for speaking of a single ‘’European social model’’, some arguing that this is in fact a core part of the European identity and should be protected.
For all these reasons we believe that it is important for local, regional and national actors (diaconal organisations and all types of social organisation) to be empowered to understand EU decision-making processes and engage in advocacy to enable their voices to be heard.
Social policies impact on the work of NGOs, which is why NGOs must be aware of the broad lines of the decision-making processes and how to feed into them. Moreover, expertise from social NGOs is positively essential for decision-makers in policy-making.
- Social policies directly impact on the work of NGOs
Decisions taken at EU level impact on the work of social justice actors and social services providers. Whether it concerns a broad policy direction on, for instance, a housing-first approach to homelessness, or specific legislation on public procurement, these decisions will shape the way work is done at national and local levels. A network such as Eurodiaconia supports its members by providing regular briefings and training events in areas of interest.
- NGOs can impact on social policies
Eurodiaconia members are experts in their field and know the realities experienced by vulnerable people at grassroots level. They are aware of the impact of policy at local level and know the potential alternatives. That is why Eurodiaconia encourages its members to be involved in policy-shaping processes at local and national levels.
At the present time a key process in which social justice actors and social services providers need to be involved is the European Semester. This EU process constitutes the overarching cycle of policy coordination for all EU Member States and includes a process by which the European Commission issues guidelines to Member States on reforms they need to make. The process is complex and involves Civil Society as well as representation by the Member States themselves. Stakeholders can become involved and share their analysis of the social situation with the European Commission in order to try to impact on the policy recommendations it will address to the Member States. For more information on this process and how social justice actors and social services providers can be involved, please read the Eurodiaconia European Semester online toolkit.
This module is designed for Eurodiaconia members and all social NGOs based in Europe that are interested in the European Union’s social policies and decision-making processes.
This module is a pedagogical support for trainings on EU social policies and should be suitable to social NGOs’ staff, volunteers or board members, as well as to local and national administrations of EU Member States.