This week has been a very busy one! We started on Monday with the Annual Convention on Inclusive Growth, organised by the European Commission to examine and debate social policies in Europe. This year the focus was on youth inclusion and we were delighted to have members from Italy, Finland, Sweden and Scotland, as well as colleagues from Salvation Army Europe join members of the secretariat at the event. Rev Petter Karlsson from the Church of Sweden spoke in a workshop on how to prevent radicalisation of young people and Jonny Kinross from the Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh presented their successful social enterprise and inclusion model. We then held our first seminar on Mental Health, hosted by Church of Scotland in Glasgow, where members from across Europe gathered to discuss strategies, policies and actions to ensure the inclusion and dignity of people with mental health challenges and discuss how Eurodiaconia could further support this work.

Presenting work that is happening and sharing best practice is hugely inspiring and encouraging but there needs to be a policy framework in which such actions take place and which promotes a positive direction of travel towards social justice.  On Thursday this week the Commission published the long awaited Pillar of Social Rights proposal. Across Eurodiaconia our members have been advocating for an ambitious proposal that would address not only employment issues but critical social issues as well and we are pleased to see much of what we have called for in the final proposal. The Pillar as presented is a strong start. Recognising the need to fight extreme poverty such as homelessness, guarantee minimum income and ensure access to quality long term care services, the Pillar perhaps represents the most ambitious approach to social policy seen in the European Union for many years. However, it is a proposal, and it comes with little legislative strength, depending instead on national governments to implement the proposals.

Implementation will need partnership and that is where our members can be key partners, yet the proposal on the social pillar gives very little recognition to the role of civil society and third sector actors in defining the pillar politically and practically. This is a real concern, especially as we have demonstrated this week how essential the work of churches and diaconal organisations are in addressing social inequalities and risks. We will be following this issue up with the European Commission and Parliament in the coming weeks and will be providing a full briefing for members on the Pillar shortly.

But it is somewhat precipitous that we will end this week by becoming full members of Civil Society Europe, a network that fights for the recognition, conditions and engagement of civil society at national and European levels.  We want to join with other organisations, not only from the social sector, to show why a vibrant civil society is essential not only for policy development but for our democracy as well.

Have a good weekend,