I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries Turkey, the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia*and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
First of all, we would like to thank the Bureau and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs for the preparatory work carried out in advance of this session.
In 2020, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 25th anniversary of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development. 2020 needs to be a crucial year for the Commission for Social Development and for the social dimension of the 2030 Agenda.
The new European Commission took office on 1 December and its new President, Ursula von der Leyen has made sustainability an overriding political priority for the Commission. And People’s wellbeing is at the centre of our political agenda. Achieving prosperity and social fairness is a fundamental promise on which the European Union has to deliver.
The new European Commission will put forward an action plan, after a broad consultation with all EU Member States, regional and local authorities, social partners and other parts of civil society, to fully implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. Its 20 principles aim at improving equal opportunities and jobs for all, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. Implementing them upholds our commitment that people are at the centre of our policies and that no one is left behind.
The European Commission aims at a strong social Europe for Just Transitions, with a fair minimum wage that allows for a decent living, an inclusive economy for all, regardless of age, gender, origin, or disability, a strong social dialogue, high social protection and improved working conditions for platform workers. The first stage consultation of EU social partners on how to ensure fair minimum wages for workers in the EU has already been launched. The European Commission will also present proposals on a European unemployment reinsurance scheme, a reinforced youth guarantee, and a child guarantee. It will work with Member States towards extending adequate social protection to all workers.
The EU will foster social fairness in the rest of the world. Our international cooperation, development and trade policies aim at contributing to sustainable growth, decent jobs and prosperity and supports sustainable development. Every new comprehensive bilateral trade agreement will have a dedicated sustainable-development chapter and the highest standards of climate, environmental and labour protection, with a zero-tolerance approach on child labour.
Chair, we welcome the priority theme for this session, putting the focus on affordable housing and social protection solutions to fight homelessness. The analysis of trends and drivers carried out in the report prepared by the Secretary General has put in evidence common challenges that the Union shares with other developed and developing regions.
Homelessness is on the rise in most EU member states. The European Pillar of Social Rights includes a principle dedicated to "Housing and assistance for the homeless", which sets the bar high by promoting the reintegration of homeless people into society, by means of enabling social services. This is a clear political signal on the importance that the Union attaches to the fight against homelessness and housing exclusion. The Charter of fundamental rights of the EU stipulates that ’the Union recognises and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources, in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices’.
The Union supports its Member States in the fight against homelessness and housing exclusion. A good way to reduce homelessness and housing exclusion is to support Member States in the implementation of preventive policies, which combine housing-led policies and policies for social inclusion. They allow long-term social and economic benefits including lower public expenditure.
Young people continue to be at the heart of the EU’s preoccupations. Since 2013, the Youth Guarantee - the structural framework to tackle youth unemployment and inactivity, has been implemented by the EU and its Member States. In 2013 Member States committed to make a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship for all people under 25 within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.
The EU and its Member States strongly support the Youth Delegates programmes, with 26 out of 36 Youth Delegates to the 74th session of the General Assembly being from the EU.
In 2013, the youth unemployment rate was 24% in the EU and over 50% in some Member States, with 7.5 million young people (aged 15-24) not in employment, education, or training.
Now, the youth unemployment rate is down to 14.2% and there are 2 million fewer young people not in employment, education or training. Every year, more than 3.5 million young people receive a Youth Guarantee offer.
However, despite the improved situation, the youth unemployment rate in the EU is still double the general unemployment rate (6.3%) and certain groups of the young population are at a disproportionate disadvantage.
Furthermore, ongoing technological developments such as automation and digitalisation, as well as the transition towards a greener economy, are re-shaping the world of work, and bring new challenges. Young people will need support to make the most of the new opportunities.
For these reasons, we will reinforce the Youth Guarantee to ensure that it is in line with the evolving needs and changing labour markets.
Equality, including gender equality, is high on the political agenda of the EU. The situation of women on the labour market merits particular attention. Despite high levels of educational attainment, there are less women than men in paid employment, they work less hours, their careers are shorter and more interrupted and their earnings and pensions are lower. We are strongly committed to removing obstacles to the participation of women in the labour market. An EU Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers entered into force last year and the European Commission will support Member States in the smooth transposition process. In March, the European Commission will propose a new European Gender Equality Strategy, which also aims at closing the gender employment, pay and pension gap, including through binding pay transparency measures.
Population ageing is a key challenge guiding EU social policy. Pension reforms in the past ten years have ensured sustainability and, especially recently, sought to maintain the adequacy of pensions; more needs to be done to prepare for a rapid increase in the number of older people. Increasing needs will also result in the areas of long-term care, as well as health care, where a rise in chronic diseases is expected to continue. Several approaches, including those harnessing digitalisation, are being pursued to improve access, affordability and quality of these services. Transport and urban services also need to be adapted, to create environment that allow and encourage active ageing. Older people are becoming less poor, healthier and more active, for the benefit of the whole society, but much more can still be done towards this goal. To better understand and respond to the impact of demographic change, the European Commission will present a Report on the Impact of Demographic Change and a Green Paper of Aging in 2020.
Finding affordable housing remain a challenge for many older people whose social security payments are their only source of income. Such barriers create disadvantages for elderly. To address age-based discrimination, the EU is primarily involved in setting up more cohesive and effective mechanisms, already mentioned, to achieve equality of opportunities and to prevent prejudices that marginalise older people.
The European Union, as a Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, continues to mainstream disability issues in the actions to combat unemployment and works towards their full participation in society on an equal basis with others. The evaluation of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, in order to take stock of the implementation of the Convention in the EU and assess the effectiveness of the strategy to that end, is progressing well and results are expected by mid 2020. Recognising that persons with disabilities continue to face difficulties in accessing education and training, employment, social protection systems and health care, the Commission just announced that it will present a strengthened strategy for disability in 2021. The European Accessibility Act, legislation that harmonises accessibility requirements in the EU to facilitate access for persons with disabilities to essential goods and services in the single market, has been adopted last year.
We also take very seriously the global challenges ahead. In this respect, we hope that the European Consensus on Development will continue to be a key instrument to support Social Development around the World.
The EU Consensus on Development which has poverty eradication as its primary objective seeks to support the achievement of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals in an integrated manner. It states that the EU and its Member States will promote gender equality and will implement a rights based approach to development, encompassing all human rights. It also underlines our intention to work more strongly and effectively with all our partners – including by forging new relationships. This includes countries at all stages of development. We will continue to target our assistance to the least-developed and conflict-affected countries. And we will also strengthen our partnerships with Middle Income Countries. They will be critical in achieving the 2030 Agenda and for addressing major risks that affect social inclusion and social cohesion, such as rising inequalities within many countries.
In that respect, universal social protection, which is a strong value of the European Union, has a key role to play, and the EU stands ready to assist partner countries in adapting, expanding and improving their social protection systems in a sustainable way.
* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.