Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

The Social Policy Challenges of Europe 2020 in the Eu Candidate Countries: The Case of Croatia and Macedonia

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

The Social Policy Challenges of Europe 2020 in the Eu Candidate Countries: The Case of Croatia and Macedonia

Article excerpt

This paper examines the social dimension of the EU's Europe 2020 Strategy in two EU candidate countries (Croatia and Macedonia). The text outlines both the positive attributes of the new Strategy and addresses criticisms it has received. The two countries analysed show diverging trends, but also face similar challenges, in relation to the incorporation of Europe 2020 indicators and targets in employment, education, and poverty and social inclusion. The new indicators and targets may promote greater influence of the European Union in the creation of social policy at national level. At the same time, there is a need to support candidate countries where there are gaps in statistical data for evidence-based policies, a lack of strategic capacity, significant fiscal constraints, and a lack of political will. The paper concludes by addressing implications in relation to the identification of the poor and impacts on social protection systems and overall public policies.

1 INTRODUCTION

Systems of social protection as well as corresponding social policies in the countries of South East Europe (SEE) have been subjected to continuous changes since the 1990s. These changes have been produced by both internal and external factors, including: the transformation of the political (and socio-economic) systems and ideologies, labour market restructuring and demographic ageing. In addition, a range of international organizations have played a crucial role in framing policy choices and offering technical and financial support for institutional and legislative changes in the field of social policy.2 Although the European Union has been criticized as lagging behind other international organizations in relation to the governance of social policy,3 for the countries in South East Europe (particularly when these countries became candidate countries for EU membership), the EU represents an important factor for change. Again, despite its limited socia/ acquis, and continued emphasis on the sovereignty of nation states in the social policy making process, the EU's social dimension can act as a catalyst for change challenging conservative bureaucratic policy structures, and, at times, as a counterweight to the social policy prescriptions offered by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF. In this respect, the Europe 2020 agenda, endorsed by the 27 Heads of State at the June 2010 European Council, with its aim of achieving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, offers a new possibility for EU candidate countries to adapt their policies towards a more progressive and inclusive social model. However, there are many challenges facing the EU candidate countries in moving towards EU 2020 goals and targets.

2 THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF THE EUROPE 202O STRATEGY: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES

Although the overall architecture of the strategy encompasses a combination of macroeconomic, fiscal, as well as environmental goals and targets, here we focus only on the social dimension. The operationalization of the priority of inclusive growth is meant to be achieved through:

a) Five reinforcing EU-wide headline targets, three of which are primarily focused on inclusive growth: raising to 75% the employment rate for women and men aged 20-64; improving education levels, in particular by aiming to reduce school drop-out rates to less than 10%, and by increasing the share of 30-34 years old having completed tertiary or equivalent education to at least 40%; and promoting social inclusion, in particular through the reduction of poverty, by aiming to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty and exclusion. The anti-poverty target is based on a combination of three indicators: the number of people at risk of poverty (whose total income is below 60% of the median national equivalised household income), the number of people suffering severe material deprivation (the number of people living in households who can not afford at least 4 items out of a list of 9), and the number of people aged 0-59 who live in jobless households;

b) Seven flagship initiatives, including three primarily focused on inclusive growth: "Youth on the move", "An Agenda for new skills and jobs" and "A European Platform against poverty"; and

c) Ten Integrated Guidelines, the last four of which focus on inclusive growth: Increasing labour market participation of women and men, reducing structural unemployment and promoting job quality; Developing a skilled workforce responding to labour market needs and promoting long-life learning; Improving the quality and performance of education and training systems at all levels and increasing participation in tertiary or equivalent education; and Promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. …

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