MEPs grill Commission on its minimum income plans
One of the Europe 2020 targets is to lift 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion. “We're still miles away from meeting this target,” noted Thomas Händel, chairman of the Employment Committee (EMPL), as he presented an oral question to the Commission on minimum income schemes in the EU. “Currently over 120 million Europeans are at risk of poverty and social exclusion due to long-term unemployment, low wages, social dumping and the erosion of social security systems. High poverty rates are not only recorded in the crisis-hit member states, but also in some cities in Europe.”
President Juncker called in 2014 for an adequate income for all Europeans. There has been barely any progress towards this target and for Händel it is clear why:
“Poverty-proof minimum income schemes are key instruments for social security and equal opportunities. The extension of social security in Europe is one of the existential questions for the future of Europe.”
The European Parliament had repeatedly called for a minimum income of at least 60 percent of the average wage of the member states. This corresponds to the OECD definition of the poverty line.
The Employment Committee of the European Parliament expects the support of the EU Commission, “so that member states implement an adequate and accessible minimum income in accordance with their national practice”, concluded the GUE/NGL MEP.
Accusing the Commission President of distorting the concept of minimum income, GUE/NGL MEP Paloma López Bermejo called for straightforward measures to guarantee the dignity of workers:
“Juncker spoke of guaranteeing an adequate income, but all we hear are calls to “rationalise” existing minimum income schemes or to transform them into instruments of “active inclusion”. The right to a guaranteed income is a fundamental one: it must not be distorted into a mechanism to subsidise low wages, discipline workers or reduce other forms of social protection.”
“Minimum income schemes must be universal and unconditional and, as this Parliament has repeatedly asserted, set at a level equal or higher than 60 percent of national median income. Hence, we call on the Commission to put forward a proposal for a minimum income framework directive and to provide the resources for its implementation.”
Portuguese MEP João Pimenta challenged the 60 percent benchmark for a minimum income as inadequate to the reality in some countries:
“The concept of minimum wage, in this context of deep economic and social crisis, lacks meaningful thought around its objectives and implementation, adapted to the reality of each country. Only in this way can a value be defined that guarantees minimum dignity to victims of long-term poverty and unemployment. It is questionable if a 60 percent of median income meets this objective given the smashing of wage levels of workers.
Pimenta urged the application of a minimum wage policy as part of a broader shift in thinking on how the Commission approaches the issue of wages and workers' rights:
“The concept of minimum wage does not by itself give an answer to dire social problems, which don´t get solved with quick fixes but with a reversal of the economic and social policies of the EU. These problems will be exacerbated if the EU´s objectives are perverted, serving instead to increase exploitation through precarious work, an explicit way of creating cheap labour. The fight against inequality and poverty can only be possible with policies of economic and social policies that value wages, workers´ rights and a balanced sharing of wealth.”
Meanwhile Spanish MEP Tania González Peñas expressed support for the minimum income as a measure to restart the economy:
“A decent minimum income system in the European Union has to be a key political priority that will give people autonomy and help jumpstart innovation and talent, in an environment that is free of precariousness and uncertainty. This policy will also help regenerate the economies where most citizens don´t even have the capacity to be consumers. The economy cannot be restarted because people cannot consume.”
González Peñas called on the Commission to put people at the centre of its policy-making:
“This last decade of crisis and austerity will go down in history because of the political and economic negligence that has lead to unsustainable levels of poverty and inequality. As a result 120 million Europeans live at risk of social exclusion.”
“In Spain for example a lot of money was paid to banks, a suficient amount to pay the minimum wage to 8 million people. This is why we need a social contract that puts people, not banks, at its centre over and above policies of austerity.”