On the 28th of September, two weeks after the Commission President’s State of the European Union speech (SOTEU), Eurodiaconia hosted its first Conference on the State of the Social European Union. Panellists from the Eurodiaconia membership and representatives of EU-level partner organisations and EU Institutions discussed current social concerns at the EU and Member State level on three panels. The Conference also marked the launch of our first “Report on the State of the Social European Union”, based on our member’s perspectives as social service providers on the most pressing social issues affecting their countries. 

The first panel discussed the current cost-of-living crisis and exchanged thoughts on how to address poverty and provide immediate as well as long-term support to vulnerable groups. An expert by experience close to our Dutch member, Kerk in Actie, stressed that new groups of the population are affected by poverty and in particular single parents are becoming the new poor in this crisis. The panel agreed that the rise of prices is impacting middle-income households and is also enhancing in-work poverty. Thus, differentiated measures are necessary and vulnerable groups need to be identified to provide a tailored response. Panellists regretted that the roots of the problem were not addressed and support measures in many cases not targeted to those most in need. It was pointed out that crises have been ongoing since 2008 and that austerity measures after the 2008 crisis had deeply affected the social sector, leading to an urgent need of a new economic model based on a well-being economy. 

On the second panel, the role of social service providers as enablers of the European Pillar of Social Rights and its Action Plan was debated. Panellists stressed that the obstacles faced by social service providers were not new to the cost-of-living crisis, post-COVID 19 or the consequences of the war in Ukraine. Issues, such as the lack of funding or demographic change have been recurrent challenges for years. However, it was also highlighted that social services had shown how adaptable and able to respond quickly to emerging needs in times of crisis they are, despite administrative and financial obstacles. Panellists called for stronger use of European funds to invest in social and care services, following the principles of accessibility, quality and affordability of services to ensure people can live in dignity. Regarding the Care Strategy, there was an agreement on the challenge of monitoring its implementation at the national level due to a lack of clear indicators in long-term care. Therefore, panellists called for the development of an easily monitorable framework to measure the effectiveness of the Strategy and identify implementation weaknesses. 

Finally, the Conference was closed by a reflection on Eurodiaconia’s report, as well as panellists’ observations on the current State of the Social European Union and how social concerns were reflected in this year’s SOTEU. While the cost-of-living crisis is a key concern for many people across Europe, the SOTEU speech focussed mainly on the energy crisis and solidarity towards Ukraine, but social consequences and the essential role of social, health and care services were not sufficiently addressed. A fair transition and the strengthening of essential social safety nets will not be achieved if Member States do not work to ambitiously advance on the Social Pillar and the European Semester.  

You can access the agenda of the Conference here. Likewise, you can check the videos of our members’ good practices in the following links: When there are opportunities, we get ahead (Nueva Vida, Spain) and Beter Eten- Food Pilot (Rotterdam, the Netherlands).