The EU’s Care Strategy – Perspectives and Reflections of the ESU
A European Care Strategy was at the center of the discussions at the ESU Executive Committee Meeting (EXCO)
An Hermans, the President of the ESU welcomed the adoption of the EU’s Care Strategy, which aims to strengthen the resilience of European care systems and improve the conditions of caregivers and care receivers. With the aim to support the European Commission’s vision and its areas of action, the ESU prepared a resolution together with its member organizations, which was presented at the Executive Committee Meeting.
During the EXCO meeting, the ESU representatives held lively debates around the presented resolution. The discussions were facilitated by the ESU Vice President Mr. Heinz Becker. In the words of Mr. Becker, the EU’s Care Strategy can be assessed as a historic step toward human and professional health policy as it addresses the significant challenges related to discrepancies in the EU’s regions and rural areas. Taking into account the EU’s limited competencies and actions in the health area, the adoption of the EU’s care strategy in a certain way is also a paradigm shift that allows the EU to increase its coordinating capacity across Europe. Indeed, although social policies largely are not a matter of the EU legislation, the EU’s efforts to activate the debates about Care encouraged the member states to develop a sustainable care model across Europe in a more coordinated and concerted manner.
The ESU delegates also positively assessed the Member States’ approval of launching the European Commission’s supporting fund to care. This step can be understood as an affirmation of the political will to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue. In addition, the ESU calls on Member States to make use of the financial and support measures that the EU can offer to meet staff shortages, lack of training, and skills capacity of staff.
One important dimension that the ESU raised in the resolution is the aspects of Long Term care from the Enlargement countries. The ESU’s recent policy report has revealed a significant gap in the care provisions in the countries of the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership. These countries’ social policies lack institutionalization, and coordination and face a fragmented approach. This makes senior generations increasingly vulnerable, whose situation is aggravated by social hardships and economic inequalities generated by the political transition of the Eastern Partnership countries.
Thus, taking into account the report findings, the ESU resolution suggested in light of the EU’s geopolitical commitment towards the EU’s Neighbourhood, the EU needs to invest in developing the social policies and provisions, that would allow the enlargement countries to accelerate their institutional and sectorial integration with the EU. Thus, the resolution suggests that considering a lack of institutionalization and coordination in the Western Balkan and the Eastern Partnership countries there is an increasing need that the EU steps up and encourages the development of national long-term social policy documents and support their implementation.
The ESU discussion also underlined the importance of cooperation between Member States, which can bring a unique benefit for all in Europe. The ESU firmly believes that sharing experiences and respectful common reflection will create mutual learning situations. In this respect, the new European Care strategy is a unique instrument to start from a multifold of experiences, compare and further improve them. The ESU believes that based on seniors’ experiences, the availability of qualified Long Term Care is a social right, being part of a human-centered, age-friendly society.
The ESU delegates also highlighted the important role of the European People’s Party (EPP), which contributed to developing the EU’s Care Strategy. Following the lively debates, the ESU delegates have successfully adopted the resolution. The adopted resolution was sent to EPP president Manfred Weber and his secretary general Thanasis Bakolas. You can find our resolution here.
The second part of the discussions continued with Mr. Colin Scicluna, Head of Cabinet of Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica.
In his intervention, Mr. Scicluna highlighted the four founding principles of the EU’s Care Strategy. These four principles are availability; accessibility; affordability and high quality. These elements should not be put into practice separately, but rather in combination with each other.
From the European Commission’s perspective, Mr. Scicluna underlined that investing in care is important to attract and retain talents in the care sector, which is often characterized by difficult working conditions and low wages. Proper investment in care provisions also will address labour shortages and fulfill the sector’s economic and job creation potential. Investing in high-quality care also means improving women’s participation in the labour market and gender equality, in particular gender pay and pension gaps. It should not be forgotten that women still bear the main weight of care responsibilities, with 90% of the formal care workforce made up of women, and 7.7 million women out of employment because of care responsibilities. The strategy is accompanied by two Recommendations for Member States on the revision of the Barcelona targets on early childhood education and care, and on access to affordable high-quality long-term care.
The monitoring mechanism of the implementation of the EU’s Care Strategy was also discussed. These mechanisms include the nomination of national long-term care coordinators, who are tasked to present action plans on long-term care within one year; The Monitoring will be performed throughout the European Semester. It was also noted that the work on long-term care statistics will continue and aim to develop tangible tools to measure long-term care quality and accessibility.
Mr. Scicluna also highlighted that with the EU’s Care Strategy existing funds will put more focus on developing long-term care, such as the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Recovery and Resilience Fund, etc. He also added that some dedicated programmes will be opened in the Horizon Europe fund (supporting research and innovation, specifically on inequalities and integrated care) and the ‘Technical Support Instrument’, which helps Member States in reforming public services. Mr. Scicluna also put special attention to the importance of care provision in rural areas and developing mutual learning between Member States on all dimensions. Furthermore, he observed that one of the important achievements of the EU’s Care Strategy is an agreement by the Member States that the actions should be done in a coordinated way.
Finally, Mr. Scicluna noted the importance of proper rule of law mechanisms in order to ensure the effective management of funds. In this respect, it is important to note that as of 2021, the Union budget has an additional layer of protection in cases when breaches of the rule of law principles affect or risk affecting the EU’s financial interests. This is thanks to a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the EU budget – also known as a “conditionality regulation” – that has been in force since January 2021.
The ESU delegates actively engaged in the conversation with Mr. Scicluna. The discussion focused on a wide range of topics related to the EU’s care strategy, including the challenges related to the inclusion of palliative care in the EU’s policy document.
These enriching discussions held at the meeting provided a valuable contribution and reflections on the ways ahead for implementing the EU’s Care Strategy. The ESU believes, that on the one hand, care should be approached as a comprehensive and multidisciplinary sector, rooted in human rights, choice, and dignity for both care recipients and their informal careers. On the other hand, a wide-ranging coordination process at the EU level can serve to develop common approaches, define common targets, monitor progress, foster an exchange of information and good practices, and complement national efforts.
The ESU will continue contributing to the grassroots, policy and political debates around the EU’s care policy within its network both at the EU and national levels.
 The strategy was adopted by the European Commission on 7 September 2022 https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/13298-European-care-strategy_en#:~:text=About%20this%20initiative&text=This%20initiative%20announces%20EU%2Dlevel,gender%20equality%20and%20social%20fairness.