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International Secretary addresses EU on social rights

International Secretary addresses EU on social rights

International Secretary addresses EU on social rights

Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton, right, spoke at the European Union Parliament to discuss the EU's Pillar of Social Rights and the role of Churches and Religions.

By Major Mike Stannett

Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton, The Salvation Army’s International Secretary for Programme Resources, gave a thought-provoking speech at a high-level meeting in the European Union Parliament to discuss the EU’s Pillar of Social Rights.

Hosted by the European Parliament president, Antonio Tajani, and Mairead McGuinness, vice-president for Dialogue with Religions and Non-Confessional Organisations, the meeting took as its theme: “Implementing the European Social Pillar: The Role of Churches and Religions”.

Commissioner Brekke-Clifton showed appreciation for the new social pillar but also addressed its shortcomings. She started by asking a simple question of the hosts and the 100 or so church and faith-based organisation leaders who were present: “I met a little Roma girl in Slovakia,” she said. “She was dirty, unkempt and lived in extreme poverty, with little hope. Would this European Pillar of Social Rights make a difference in this little girl’s life?”

European Pillar of Social Rights

The European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), which was proclaimed by EU leaders in November 2017, sets out 20 key principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems.

It is an attempt by the EU to refocus its attention on social issues, especially after the financial crisis and the austerity measures that were implemented that have been devastating on social service provision across Europe, especially affecting the most marginalised.

Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton with The Salvation Army’s Giacomo Manca and Major Mike Stannett.

 

It is primarily conceived for the Euro area but applicable to all EU member states wishing to be part of it.

Over the past three years, The Salvation Army’s EU Affairs Office has, along with other faith-based social organisations and EU-level social platforms, been involved in a civil society dialogue with the EU on the development of the social values that form the EPSR. 

It was because of the EU Affairs Office’s consistent work that an invitation was given to Commissioner Birgitte Brekke-Clifton to represent the General as a guest speaker at the meeting.

Her opening question went to the crux of the matter: Would it make any real difference? She answered with a simple: “We hope so”.

Assessing the impact

The Salvation Army, Commissioner Brekke-Clifton said, welcomes the refocus of the EU to initiate a new social vision for Europe to address poverty and social injustice.

However, she outlined some of the new social pillar’s shortcomings, especially in the lack of provision for undocumented migrants/asylum seekers and the lack of accountability for member states in tackling child poverty and homelessness.

Finally, addressing the parliament and its legislative role, she mentioned the ongoing decisions on the EU budget, and the importance that it will have in financing projects promoting social inclusion.

Commissioner Brekke-Clifton concluded her presentation by linking the Social Pillar to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, to help implementation of the pillar and measurement of its effectiveness.

Working with faith-based organisations

Other church leaders spoke about the need for dignity in work, warning of the need to pay attention to today’s young people and bringing awareness to the growing lack of employment opportunities due to increased digitalisation and mechanisation.

Commissioner Brekke-Clifton (2nd from left) with other faith leaders at the EU Parliament.

There was a call to protect the rights for churches and faith-based organisations to be involved in providing social services. 

The EU and member states were urged to move away from policies based only on economics and were encouraged to consider wider forms of inclusion in society.

The Army’s EU Affairs Office believes that The Salvation Army in Europe, both at corps and social services levels, must address these issues, meeting the challenges and opportunities by being able to adapt to the social needs of 21st-century Europe.

For more information on the European Pillar of Social Rights, click here

Major Mike Stannett is The Salvation Army’s European Affairs Officer and Regional Leader, France and Belgium Territory.

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