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On the 26th October, Eurocarers took part in a Strategic Dialogue meeting on the "EU Semester" organised by DG Employment and hosted by Jeroen Jutte, Head of Unit "Employment and Social Aspects of European Semester" and Emmanuelle Grange, Head of Unit "Disability and Inclusion".
 
The objective of the meeting was to discuss the contribution of civil society organizations in the European Semester process. In particular, the Commission was interest in discussing, in an open and informal setting, the priorities related to social issues, paying specific attention to civil society organisations' assessments and analysis. Naturally the newly proclaimed European Pillar of Social Rights was an important compass in this context. As is the case for the process with social partners, the discussions fed into an internal reflection process in preparation to the Country Reports which the European Commission expects to publish in February 2018.
 
The meeting started with a presentation by Mr Jutte, covering: (1) the recent economic and social developments, (2) the European Pillar of Social Rights, (3) the origins and process of the European Semester, (4) the integration of Pillar into the Semester, and (5) the possibilities of involving the civil society. For details (slides) please click here
 
Main points:
  • Country Reports are the main input of the Commission into a multilateral process. Those are highly analytical but their abstracts (executive summaries) drive a political process. 
  • When collecting information for the Reports, the Commission will be happy to learn from civil society. Given the nature of reports, the Commission seeks in particular facts, figures and analysis. It makes no commitments in exchanges, but does commit to studying the material.
  • Early autumn is the best time to provide input to the Country Reports.
 
An active discussion took place on both policy issues and operational aspects related to the involvement of civil society in the semester and its role in actively engaging on European Pillar of Social Rights issues.
 
Main operational points raised in the open debate:
  • The national-level consultations with Social Partners should be mirrored by a similar involvement of the civil society. It would be good if the Commission issued relevant guidelines.
  • Low-level, working, meetings between civil society and COM services can have a greater impact on the eventual shape of the Semester documents than the official high-level talks.
  • A situation of certain disadvantaged groups, e.g. people with disabilities, should be taken into account when constructing indicators. Right now they remain unseen because, e.g. are not considered as fit for employment, nor as homeless since they live in institutional care.
  • Regarding children and youth, indicators should go beyond accessibility of childcare and monitoring educational outcomes. E.g. children participation should be also addressed.
  • There is no consistency in how the Commission engage with civil society, especially at national level through the European Semester officers. This creates differences between countries. 
 
CONCLUSIONS AND ACTION POINTS by Mr JUTTE:
  • The Strategic Dialogue will be continued. The indicative timing of the next meeting is March 2018, i.e. a few weeks after the publication of Country Reports, so that participants can read and comment on them.
  • The Commission will make a proposal on how to organise that and subsequent meetings, possibly breaking it into different themes, so as to ensure there is enough time available for policy issues and developments, and to also include country specificity.
  • DG EMPL will engage with other DG's to review the way civil society is consulted on Member State level; it will be important to arrive at a more harmonized and active approach. Possibly a guidance paper will need to be developed.
  • DG EMPL will create a semester background info list with all relevant organisations, their Member State contacts and the semester/Social Pillar relevant (existing or forthcoming) inputs. This should allow a more structured access for desk officers to the input provided by civil society.
  • Input from civil society at this stage, which can feed into the Country Reports, is most welcome.
  • DG EMPL will distribute a short flash report with main operational conclusion, will share the slides as well as an overview document with 2017 CSRs in the social domain.
  • The Commission noted that this meeting should be considered the start of a regular interaction on the Semester and the Pillar implementation through the semester.