EU picks austerity over helping poor, UN expert says


Brussels, Jan 29 (AFP/APP): Policy-makers in the European Union choose austerity and balanced budgets over lifting tens of millions of Europeans out of poverty, a UN report said on Friday.

The criticism was made by Olivier De Schutter, a UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who interviewed dozens of EU officials to make his assessment.

De Schutter warned that the EU institutions — which include the commission, the European Central Bank and the council of ministers — must use the current covid crisis to “reinvent themselves” to fight poverty. Currently, “EU member states are asked to be competitive and lean: they are pardoned for not being social enough,” said the report.

His report said that one in five people — more than 92.4 million or 21.1 percent of the EU population — still experiences poverty, defined as having an income below 60 percent of national median income. A total of 19.4 million children, representing 23.1 percent, live in poverty across the bloc, the report said.

As things stand, it added, EU member states all too often “compete with each other in very unhelpful ways”, stifling social progress. “They race to the bottom by lowering taxes, wages, and worker protections because they think that’s how they can attract investors and improve… competitiveness,” said De Schutter. He also slammed the EU’s much vaunted Green Deal, a vast programme that is meant to ensure the EU becomes carbon neutral by 2050. “The fight against poverty is the missing piece of this Green Deal” even though it was presented as a key component, he said. “But as long as this good intention is not translated into concrete actions, millions will continue to struggle for a decent standard of living in a society that leaves them behind.” He urged the EU to implement its so-called European Pillar of Social Rights, which should include minimum income guarantees and legally binding targets to erase poverty. It “is an opportunity that should not be wasted,” he said.

The EU executive is due to present an action plan to deliver its ambitious social programme in March and leaders will discuss it in May at a summit in Portugal.

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