A Europe-wide minimum income is required to stop people falling into poverty as the continent reels from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union's jobs commissioner Nicolas Schmit has told The Irish Times.
The Luxembourg social democrat said the idea had his “full support” and that work on a minimum income plan would be under way by July, as the economic devastation of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, threatens a historic downturn and tens of millions of job losses across the continent.
“We will work in the next coming months on this idea of creating a framework for minimum income for all those who will finally have no other form of income or replacement income,” Mr Schmit said in an interview.
“This crisis is showing all kind of shortcomings that existed before but perhaps were less visible or less dramatic. We’ve had a lot of people lose their jobs . . . Also for people who are not able to work for health reasons or other reasons, we should have a minimum income for these categories of people.”
It comes after Italy, Portugal and Spain called for the creation of a European minimum income system through a legally binding EU framework, as the continent faces what they called its "greatest challenge since World War II".
A cross-party group of 23 members of the European Parliament including Fine Gael's Mairead McGuinness, the first vice president, also called for the issue to be put on the commission's agenda in a letter to Mr Schmit last month, arguing it was vital to prevent millions falling into poverty.
Mr Schmit said the idea had backing to be pursued as Germany assumes the rotating EU presidency in July.
“I have been in touch with the German presidency, and they want this issue to be discussed under the German presidency, and they have my full support,” Mr Schmit said.
Rather than centralised payments paid from Brussels, the measure would be introduced by creating an obligation for EU member states to provide a minimum income for citizens who would otherwise have nothing to live on. The income level would vary from state to state.
“We cannot create a European minimum income saying each European gets from the European budget an amount of so many euros: this is not possible. But what we would like to create is a framework, meaning an obligation, that certain categories of people get a minimum income,” Mr Schmit said.
"This minimum income will certainly not be same in Bulgaria as in the Netherlands or Sweden or Luxembourg or in Ireland. This has to be adapted to living costs and so on. But there should be a guarantee for people losing all kinds of income that they should not just be lost entirely in a desperate situation."