Nearly 17 million Europeans are unemployed and 25 million children live in poverty, with the proportion of people aged 0 to 17 being higher than any other age group. More than 70 million people with disabilities are in the EU, and they often face obstacles that prevent them from working equally with others in society. The data was presented during the discussion “Social Policy of Europe and the European Pillar of Social Rights” organized by the Bulgarian School of Politics “Dimitry Panitza” with the support of the European Parliament. The guests of the event were the Ambassador of the European Pillar of Social Rights in Bulgaria and Executive Director of the Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation Iliana Nikolova and Lydia Chorbanova, Program Director of the Institute for European Strategies and Practices and Advisor to MEP Kostadinka Kuneva. Moderator of the discussion was Sasho Kovachev from “Largo” Association. The meeting was opened by the Deputy Mayor of Kyustendil Svetoslav Vassilev. 50 residents of Kyustendil, representatives of the municipality and trade unions, people from vulnerable groups and students attended the discussion.
“The European pillar of social rights has clear and specific dimensions to every citizen in the European Union,” said Iliana Nikolova. She added that it is extremely important that we all know what the European Union does in the social sphere. The three basic principles of the European pillar of social rights include equal opportunities and access to employment, fair working conditions and social protection as well as inclusion. Each of them has specific dimensions and areas that covers. The principle of equal opportunity and access to the labor market involves four main points – education, training and lifelong learning, gender equality, equal opportunities for all and active support for employment. The fair working conditions cover all components associated with them such as safe and flexible employment, payroll, information on working conditions and protection in case of dismissal, social dialogue and employee participation, balance between work and personal life, healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and protection of personal data. The third principle – social protection and inclusion, include care and support for children, social protection, unemployment benefits, minimum income benefits and old-age pensions, health care, integration of people with disabilities, long-term care, housing and support for homeless people as well as access to basic services.
“The European Social Pillar has not been easily created. Its creation has been speeded up by reasons we all have experienced more or less on our backs – the global economic crisis, the accession of Eastern European countries that were poorer, and at some point it turned out that inequalities were enormous”, told Lydia Chorbanova during the discussion. For these reasons, Europe has set the target of reducing the number of people at risk of poverty by at least 20 million by 2020. In addition to setting up the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, a Development and Assistance Fund has been set up with a budget of € 3.8 billion, to be spent during 2014-2020 time period.
“Social policy is not the one to extinguish fires, help people in trouble or feed and dress someone. It is the work of the whole society, it is also the work of the citizens themselves. Social policy is that part of the policies that enables society to develop sustainably and live well, ” Chobanova added. She was certain that we all must be active as a society in European life, and that the participation in the elections of the European Parliament is one of the ways to stay involved.
During the discussion, the participants also discussed further issues related to the Territorial expert medical commission reform, the absenteeism of students and the planned discontinuation of benefits, as well as the overall picture of the EU in regards to the labor force as a result of the demographic crisis and the continuing migration to the Old Continent.
The event in Kyustendil is part of the planned five debates with students, young people and vulnerable groups in different cities in Bulgaria. The discussions’ aim is to raise the awareness of young Bulgarians on certain topics related to the European Union, to provoke their interest and commitment to the work of the European Parliament as well as to pay attention to the importance of exercising the right to vote in the upcoming European elections. The forum is part of the project “Europe Hears You. Vote!”, implemented by the Bulgarian School of Politics “Dimitry Panitza” with the support of the European Parliament. The project also gives young people in Bulgaria the opportunity to participate in an audiovisual competition. The winner of which will win a visit to the European Parliament in Brussels. The contest is now open for participation. Details can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/europeandi.bg/.