Confidence in the European project is being undermined because people see the EU as giving priority to economic issues over social challenges, the director of Social Justice Ireland (SJI) , Seán Healy, has said. He was speaking ahead of the publication of a report by the advocacy group which, he said, showed a very worrying trend in long-term unemployment, with 11 million people in Europe categorised as such.
The report urges the introduction of a guaranteed minimum income, large-scale investment programmes, labour market measures to support the unemployed, moves to combat tax evasion, and a shift to a social investment approach.
Quoting EU statistics, the report says that while unemployment in the EU has been falling since 2013, it is only very recently that long-term unemployment has begun to fall.
Figures in the report show that unemployment as a percentage of the active population was highest in Greece in 2015, the year of the latest figures in the report, and lowest in Germany. Ireland is shown as 11th from bottom of the EU countries.
The figures in the report also show that Ireland is among the best countries in the EU in terms of the percentage of the population in their early to mid-thirties who have completed third-level education.
In terms of tax take as a percentage of gross domestic product, the report quotes Eurostat as showing Ireland, at 30.5 per cent, being significantly below an average of 40 per cent across the EU in 2014.
Dr Healy said economic recovery had yet to be experienced by large numbers of people in Europe and that long-term unemployment is one of the continent’s main challenges.
Societies are being faced with profound questions of public policy based on emerging technologies, the changing nature of work and the differential impact on various demographic groups, he said.
The best-performing states in the EU have been those with ambitious and efficient social policies as a central part of their growth model, said SJI research and policy analyst Michelle Murphy.
“These countries have a total tax take well above the EU average and provide more opportunities for every individual to participate broadly in things like education, health services and the labour market,” she said. “They are also some of the most competitive countries in the world, including Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.”
Inequality brought the risk of a breakdown in social cohesion both within and between countries, she said.