EPN Report on ENAR Event: Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents?

Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents?

In April 9, 2012 EPN participated in the European Parliament book launch of, “Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents?” The book was prepared by the European Network against Racism (ENAR). It was supported by the UK MEP Claude Moraes and the EU Commissioner Anna Cecilia Malmström, who significantly backed this new publication with the intention of demonstrating that migrants and ethnic minorities greatly contribute to Europe’s economic, social, political and cultural life.The book intends to show evidence about the real cost of neglecting the positive contribution of migrants and ethnic minorities. It suggests that these groups are often associated to misleading myths and negative stereotypes and consequently provides evidence that many talents go unrecognized.

So, Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents? The answer to this question is a plangent yes. It expresses that Europe does not take advantage of its rich variety of cultures, traditions, and languages to the fullest. It also points to the problem that Europe underscores today’s fight for equality and diversity which is met by strong opposition. Racism, xenophobia, and discrimination on one side; high unemployment and exacerbation of fear on the other, brings people to blame migrants for ‘stealing’ the jobs of non-immigrant Europeans. The reality, however, is of course quite different. As populations grow older, migrants are needed to secure the future well-being of Europe. In addition, statistics show that 25% of the employers in Europe have difficulty filling positions due to the lack of qualified individuals. Creating more opportunities for migrants would thus be to everybody’s advantage.

Claude Morales opened the session by stressing that the publication was very timely due to the fact that it came out in one of the words periods that Europe has experiences concerning the migration debate. He explained that the strength of this report relies on the responses it will receive, which will preferably not be a defensive one. He quoted, “This publication is exactly the kind of response NGOs should work on because it brings an intellectual and cultural contribution to our society”, and added, “We have to be clear here that we don’t want only to defend ourselves from austerity cuts and the rise of nationalisms.  Our answer does not have to be only negative but rather positive!”

“We have got talents, you are the losers! The EU cannot survive without the contribution of the ethnic minorities” says Claude Moraes.

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 Nicoletta Charalambidou, Vice-Chair of the ENAR Foundation, also  pointed out that migrants are perceived as very negative nowadays,  although it is widely acknowledged that they represent the solution to the  economic and demographic crisis that is being experienced. “With this  publication,” she quoted, “we want to address this mismatch and wish to  create an opportunity for migrants to fully participate in the society they  live in”.
 Since the 2014 EP elections are approaching, she called for MEPs to make  clear their position on the status of the ethnic minorities and stand up for  equality, as there should beno difference between high-skilled and low-skilled in terms of access to human rights. Moreover, both groups can contribute to the society they live in, may it be in different ways. 

EPN would like to account some of the questions that were raised by Catherine Lynch and Shannon Pfohman, who are two of the authors of the report. These questions were, “What talents do ethnic and religious minorities and migrants bring to European society? What is the cost of neglecting their contribution? How many success stories would come to light if we ceased wasting talents because of discriminatory practices?”

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As mentioned, a great number of untapped “hidden talents” among ethnic and religious minorities across the EU are not being fully acknowledged. Sometimes this is related to structural discrimination, humility and lack of self-confidence. And sometimes these talents just simply go undetected in the chaotic pace of daily life or the biased structures in which we live. Evidence of this becomes visible in especially educational and employment sectors.

Also, ethnic and religious minorities and migrants often suffer from job mismatches and work in jobs for which they may be over-qualified. Around 60% of high skilled non-EU migrants are employed in jobs for which they are overqualified. They are less likely to be recognized for their social, economic, and cultural capital or to accumulate further capital, skills and qualifications. Furthermore, they face difficulties in accessing education and in particular attaining quality education, although most European Member States seek to ensure migrants, undocumented migrants, asylum-seekers and Roma, have legal access to education. Hence these disadvantaged factors negatively affect their position and self-confidence in society.

The publication wishes to support the importance of moving away from the negative discourses on migrants and ethnic minorities as a “burden” or as a “cost”. “If we don’t put the positive message out there” says Ms. Pfohman, “we don’t help to tackle the negative perception of migrants”. It is difficult to collect statistically exact economic figures and to quantify the economic value of the migrant population because their contribution is not just economic. There are many fields in which there are migrant role-models, ranging from sports to music, and film to labor. However we have to be able to recognize the contribution of these individuals who do not come from college or a high-level of education as well. Cuisine is an emblematic example. The Kebab or the variety of foods and cuisines available in Europe is a direct result of migration and exposure to cultural diversity.

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Younous Omarjee, Member of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament, shared his concern of the escalation of xenophobic attitudes in some countries and spoke in more concrete terms, than on a theoretical level. He talked about his personal experience. Coming from an island in the Indian Ocean (Reunion), he explained that there the population is shaped mainly of migrant people and everybody contributed to the unity of the country. He warmly said “The EU should not become an isolated island in the world; it should stay open and welcome migrants as they are the precondition for growth and well-being”.

Philippe Legrain, one of the most prolific and prominent immigration promoters operating in Europe hiddentalents6today, wrote a book that had great impact in many countries, namely: Immigrants – Your Country Needs Them. Previously serving as the trade and economics correspondent for the Economist and the special adviser to the director-general of the WTO, he is also the author of “Open World: The Truth about Globalization”.

He began his intervention by referring to the motto mentioned in treaty of Rome, and which should define Europe today:
“unity in diversity”. Ultimately this is not the case, since it reflects the diversity across the European countries but not within them. Our efforts to keep poor people out while the rich and the educated circulate freely are unsustainable and morally wrong. Freedom of movement is one of the most basic human rights. We, in rich countries, take it for granted that we are free to move around the world according to our pleasure. Many of us study and work abroad for long periods of time, and some of us end up settling elsewhere. Why, then, do we seek to deny this right to others?

Mr. Legrain stressed the economic loss that the EU would experience by denying access to immigrants or refugees, since migration is about opening new businesses and enterprises as well. It leads the path to development! The EU needs new ideas, new businesses and a variation of visions coming from innovators and entrepreneurs. “It could be an NGO, a shop or a company … and nobody can predict the benefit we could have gained from it had we given it a chance”. 

“Just Look at Silicon Valley: Google, Yahoo! and eBay, which were all co-founded by immigrants” he states.

Indeed, nearly half of America’s venture-capital-backed start-ups have immigrant co-founders. As an ever-increasing share of our prosperity comes from companies that solve problems –may they be they developing new medicines, computer games or environmentally-friendly technologies, designing innovative products and policies, or providing original management advice – diversity is crucial. Indeed, since diversity boosts innovation, it is the greatest source of economic growth. Critics who claim that immigration has few or no economic benefits are profoundly mistaken.

He concluded by inspiringly pleading for people to mix up in the streets and for employers to attract more diverse workforce. “We have to make the newcomers feel welcome! We need to invest in education, remove barriers to entrepreneurship and reinforce discrimination laws. This is a time of crisis and we have to fight against the temptation to turn against each other”.

hiddentalents7 At the end, the participation of the Commissioner responsible for the Home  Affairs portfolio in the European Commission, Anna Cecilia  Malmström, launched the final debate. She expressed her concerns for  xenophobic parties, anti-immigrant rhetoric which often manipulates the fearful  public and leads to the exclusion of migrants in social life and in the labor market.  She continued her speech by stating that she found it strange that the EU is  actually struggling to see itself as composed of a diverse mixed innovative culture.  It was after September 11, 2001 the Europe’s language changed to the detriment  of immigrants. 

 “But language is important and no person is illegal.
Someone can enter irregularly into a country but is not illegal!”

Irregularity, Europe as a fortress, and the Mediterranean Sea can be symbols of tragedy but this is one side of a big reality. Some migrants do come legally to Europe and fully integrate. Why not speak about positives cases?

Educated migrants, migrants with PhDs and those simply with a desire to improve their lives are flocking to places like Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, China, and India. Despite this, we do not make the necessary investments to integrate newcomers into our schools and workplaces. Nor have we done enough to reshape our public institutions to be inclusive and responsive to our diverse societies. The issue is not how many new immigrants are accepted into the European Union, but acknowledging the nature and composition of the society in which we already live.

Concluding, EPN was not only thrilled by the great support this publication received but also encourage our followers to read it and make their small contribution toward the change of mentality we need in this time of identity fallback and economic stagnation.  Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents is also an encouragement to policymakers and academics to undertake more research on the positive impact of migration and ethnic and religious diversity. Such studies will be crucial if we want to change negative stereotypes. After all, diversity is part of the very foundation of Europe, and we can only build a strong and successful Europe by recognizing and capitalizing on the value of our differences. Revealing the hidden talents among us is therefore a step towards achieving an equal and racism-free Europe.

 

EPN Report on European Citizens’ Initiative Day 2013

Although The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), is a great bridge for citizens to make themselves heard at an EU level, neither lawmakers nor civil society organisations are happy with the instruments. This is mainly what was discussed and debated on the day. ECI must change itself to be an influential and useful instrument; it must adapt to the requirements and facilitate procedures. This issue became apparent as well as that European civil society organisations must provide logistical and advisory support and take responsibility. Also, there should be more campaigning for the revision of the EU legislation on the European Citizens’ Initiative, which is foreseen by April 2015. Under these circumstances, an independent contact point should be found. It should not be provided by the European Commission, though, which is the current situation following a last-minute move before the EU legislation of the ECI was adopted. 

The main topic during the day was about how much and what kind of support the EU institutions should bring. Daniel Schily of Democracy International pointed out the difficulties the European Commission would have to face, if it had to provide advice to an ECI demand and to revise legislation initiated by the EU’s executive body. In this context he proposed that European civil society organisations should unite to commonly provide a helpdesk for the ECI in addition to an EU-financed contact point. Daniel Schily’s pledge was contrasted by other voices who requested the involvement of EU officials working on the ECI.

 

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Up to date out of the 14 successfully registered ECIs, only the initiative of ‘Water is a human right’ has collected one million signatures. However, the initiative has not reached the criterion to gather a specific amount from at least seven countries in proportion to their population. In view of these high hurdles many ECI organisers admitted that they had launched an ECI merely for reasons of public relations and networking, while lacking belief that they could actually reach the amount of one million signatures.

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In order to make the “ECI” a more effective instrument, Ronald Pabst of Democracy International stressed that an ECI would gain many more signatures if it was legally required as the first step towards a referendum.  Gerald Häfner, Member of European Parliament and Chairperson of Democracy International, had the same opinion. “The right to a legally binding citizens’ initiative and the right to request a referendum on vital matters of EU importance are essential for a real democracy in the EU and in the Europe of the citizens.”

“Actions and a campaign towards a better ECI “Actions must now follow the words that were spoken on the Day. This will be the proof  that European civil society is an independent strong player in the big world of the EU.

Media Pluralism and Freedom of Expression in the Internet Age

CEPS, in cooperation with the European University Institute, organised a roundtable on: 

“Media Pluralism and Freedom of Expression in the Internet Age”

The Centre for European Political Studies organised a workshop “Media pluralism and freedom of expression in Internet age” which took place on 20th March 2013.

The European Commission helped with the organisation of this workshop in order to provide an opportunity for independent experts to express their opinion on how the traditional notion of pluralism might be adapted to the digital age.

Experts like, Sana Saleem, Bolo Bhi Director; Eli Noam, Columbia University CITI; Peggy Valcke, Catholic University of Louvain and Federica Casarosa, European University Institute. The European Professionals Network is glad to report the recommendations that the Pan European Forum on Media Pluralism & New Media elaborated:

  1. First of all, in order to identify the best possible policy options, it is important to understand the current Internet media landscape. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness about the following facts:
  • Internet is considered to constitute an environment in which media pluralism is easy to ensure. However, it is important to raise awareness that nowadays, Internet media is a highly concentrated market.
  • Despite its universality, Internet media markets are different according to the countries. In particular, those markets are different in developed and in developing countries.
  • It is important to recognize that the Internet does not only constitute a tool enabling for free expression, but that it can be also used as a surveillance tool.
  • The massive abundance of available content does not ensure media pluralism as consumers are not able to process this amount of content. 
  1. Only after better understanding the current situation of media in Internet age, it is possible to lay down some proposals for ensuring media freedom and freedom of speech in Internet age. The following proposals should be considered:
  • Tools are needed to systematically monitor different factors which have impact on media pluralisms. Those tools should take into account the specificity of the Internet.
  • There should be a strong focus on interoperability in order to lower barriers of entry into media market.
  • Copyright provisions also play an important role in ensuring media freedom. Some changes may include the liberalisation of copyright or the introduction in some cases of compulsory licensing.
  • User-empowerment should be one of key actions. This might be implemented not only in raising-awareness actions, but also through better use of possibilities given by the user-generated content
  • Pluralism of media should also mean “pluralism of sources” – it is important to ensure that information come from diversified sources
  • A “diversity by design” notion should be introduced. This principle would mean that intermediaries who enable finding information should actually contribute to ensuring media pluralism.
  •  It is argued that certain rules imposed on traditional media are not well applied to new media, creating a disturbance in the equal level-playing field. Those rules include for instance competition law, obligations of public broadcasters, privacy laws etc. A proper consideration is needed to ensure that those rules, to the extent possible, are also applicable to Internet users.
  • A global nature of the Internet must be recognised. Therefore, the development of international common standards in the area of media pluralism should be considered.

mediapluralismpicture_2 EPN was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of the  roundtable and shares Mrs. Valke final conclusion in media  diversity. Twenty years after the ‘big leap forward’ in democracy,  media pluralism is in trouble in too many countries within the  wider Europe. Governmental or oligarchic monopolies are getting  thicker by the year, and not only in post-Soviet nations but also inside the EU walls. The burgeoning internet-based media alone cannot provide for a functioning diversity of public opinion, and yet they are already under attack. We should pick the brains of all those concerned for the future of our shared freedoms, and move the European Union beyond non-intervention to become a protector of media diversity in our nations.

 

EPN Report on Immigration-a source of wealth and duties for Europe

The conference intended to address the crisis and its economic and social fallout, including the European  xenophobic discourse which makes migrants the scapegoat and the first victims of these difficult times, although according to Eurostat’s projections, our continent needs migrants more than ever, since they can contribute to the welfare and the growth of our societies. This has also been emphasized in the conclusions of the last European Integration Forum.

Staffan Nilsson, President of the EESC (European Economic and Social Committee), stated that “Europe is facing an unprecedented crisis with heavy economic and social consequences. People tend to retreat into the shelter of familiar identities, into extremism, nationalism and the development of xenophobic, or racist, speech”. That is the reason why the EESC, the Council of Europe and the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council decided to continue and renew their cooperation.

A very profound and inspiring welcome speech came from Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who made clear that the event was a follow-up to the conference in Paris held last 23 September 2011, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Council of Europe Social Charter. He highlighted that the rhetoric of fear and hatred of migrants is spread by politicians at low and high levels in many European countries and that migrants are increasingly pictured as threatening the identity of European nations, even though these have always been inherently multi-ethnic.

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He continues by showing how this negative stance towards migrants has proved its tragic consequences, with the UNHCR statistics demonstrating that 2011 had been the deadliest year in the Mediterranean, with at least 1,500 people left without aid, drowning or going missing while attempting to cross the sea in search of a better life or of international protection. Moreover, the recent report of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on“Migration and asylum: mounting tensions in the eastern Mediterranean” points out that those tragedies have not stopped in 2012. Report: http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/Doc/XrefViewPDF.asp?FileID=19467&Language=EN

The situation in the European Union is pictured has worrying. In fact, whereas highly skilled migrants and brilliant artists from wherever are welcome, the situation of migrants with lower skills is clearly different. Lower-skilled migrants are attacked for “stealing jobs” from indigent populations.

However, the reality is different. 

Lower-skilled migrant workers often fill in gaps in sectors that locals have deserted for what they deem as better opportunities. The case of Punjabi migrants in Italy is a good example of positive integration, where they have successfully inserted themselves in the dairy sector in Lombardy, without “stealing jobs” from native Italians. The need for stable workforce in this sector, from which young Italians have fled, made that migrants working in this sector were less exposed to abuse and exploitation from their employers. In fact, reports indicate that the majority of migrant workers in this sector have secured legal employment contracts.

Another reality which also needs to be acknowledged is that the presence of migrants is necessary in view of the serious demographic crisis faced by European nations. Actually data indicate that the number of people aged 60 and above in the EU is rising by more than two million every year, while in recent years, the increase in the population of the EU member states has mainly been due to high net migration rates.

The dignity of each person is non-negotiable.

Reflected in his conclusions, Mr Muižnieks pointed out that it is high time for European States to consider a different take on migration. i.e.: a rational management that would fully respect the civil, political and social rights of migrants. Protecting migrants is a moral and legal obligation which should not be lost in any discussion or policy. The protection instruments exist: the European Convention of Human Rights, which makes no difference on the grounds of a person’s origin in granting him or her human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the European Social Charter.

  “Do we have more immigrants or fewer citizens ?” immigration_pic3

 Philippe Fargues, Director of the Migration Policy Centre at the  European University Institute reminded us how the immigrants of 50  years ago contributed to the construction of today’s Europe. He  stressed that their contribution was absolute essential, instrumental  even and that it would not have been possible to build Europe without  them. The EU is now responding inadequately by building an area of security. 

It is overt that migrants are disadvantaged in relation to nationals and since 2008, with the terrible financial crisis, they are absolutely vulnerable when it comes to employment. The gap of unemployment between migrants was 7% before the crisis and increased to 12 % after the crisis. Today, there is more social exclusion and a new situation is shaping: from the dimension of mobility we are now passing on to immobility, considering the economic and cultural costs of migrating.

The choice to remain in place differs substantively from the inability to move due to economic, political, financial, or physical reasons, as it is a choice made by individuals who are able to move but choose not to. Finally, in regard to population movements and dislocations among contemporary diasporic communities, the notions of homeland andnational identity are often a salient factor influencing migration choices

Moreover, Europe has become less attractive to migrants and investors because of the economic crisis, the rise of protectionism and xenophobic attitudes. And also because of another crisis, started in 2010, which is thedemographic recession, which was long announced. “What will happen?” With the ageing population ever-increasing and the gap between working people and retired people: one’s experience may grow but his competences will be soon outdated. Besides, we can postpone retirement from 65 to 72 years old but it is not a solution. We are not ageing always in good health and there are costs to ageing!

To this extent, Mr. Fargues gave us a constructive viewpoint for our future. In order to overcome this period, the European Union can look at migrants not as temporary workers who will eventually choose to go home but as future citizens. A lot of them want to stay and contribute to our society. Today, the EU cannot afford to increase the number of people who are not interested to become full member of our society. “Otherwise what will it come?

“With my company I gave immigrants a face and more importantly, I tried to build a company they would fit in”. 

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 “We are condemned to each other. So better make the  best of it!”

 Melek Usta, created Colorful People. Colorful People is a  prominent agency in the Netherlands in the field of Diversity  Management and aims at filling (top) positions both within  government and the business world. She told us about her  personal experience. Daughter of Turkish immigrants, she  experienced herself the hardness of being a foreigner and soon  realised that far too many highly educated migrants did not have any job or were taking up jobs of the lower scale of the labor market.

She also courageously stressed that we should stop to speak and think about migrants in terms of problems, because we have to face the fact that migrants are part of Europe and that they are here to stay, therefore we need equality in the labor market. 

“This is my home now is about identity, gender and the sense of belonging.  It is also about our reception, strength and success. What does success mean? It takes the double effort for a  woman.” immigration_pic5

 Sadie Choua, filmmaker and writer, showed her latest film “This is my home now”,  where the stories of three women of migrant background living in Europe are followed  closely. While struggling for their equal rights, these women, like so many others, enrich  their host communities in numerous ways. Anna is a gender researcher and poet of  Russian background who owns a hotel in Lefkara, Cyprus. Dil from Sri Lanka is a  successful stand-up comedian, journalist and radio host as well as an active voice for  equality and the rights of migrants and queers in Ireland. Sophie from Tunisia runs a beauty salon and social institute in Marseille, France, an empowering meeting place for women from different backgrounds. Their stories break down stereotypes of migrant women and give a face and a voice to the increasing number of women of migrant background in Europe.

 Sadie Choua closed up with a very engaging and strong message when she says: “The majority group does not have the power to condemn the minority group. We have to fight for more balance between the sexes and the ethnic minorities. Now it is about responsibilities. If you don’t take them either you are lazy or you have no ambitions. Instead of shutting their mouth, we can fight discrimination and give them some tools with which we can allow them to express themselves.”

 “Migrants bring positive contribution and represent also an economic potential but not ONLY: our responsibility to recognize diversity”.immigration_pic6

EPN deeply appreciated Corrado Giulietti intervention in the conference. Mr. Giulietti, Director of the Research at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn. His field of expertise includes labour economics, migration and its determinants, the impact on receiving countries, the labour market performance of immigrants and the role of their social networks. 

He began his speech with a series of questions we should ask ourselves as a premise for a conclusion on the discourse of immigration; trying to demonstrate that we can think from a different and a more constructive angle. “What are the potential benefits of immigration?”, “Why do migrants come to Europe?”, “Do they move to Europe only because of the welfare?”

As regards to the last question, he affirms that it is not the case. Migrants are powerful in terms of network. They do not come for the welfare but and it is misleading to think about migration in general terms. We often end up speaking about them as they were all in a similar situation and in Europe for the same reasons. Instead, they have different ages, perspectives and they are more at risk of employment failure than natives. Therefore, when we make comparisons between groups we have to make sure to make the right one by comparing similar groups. Besides, we have migrant generations, the new ones out shadow the previous ones by arriving with different skills and adapt better to the needs of the labor market. SO the debate does not only revolve around the binary migrants-natives.  

Also, another central question that Mr Giulietti’s research tries to answer to is: “Does immigration have an effect on happiness?” As a matter of fact, he found out that in some German regions, it is proved that migrants positively affect happiness because they do not have an effect on the health of the native population or their income. On the contrary, they bring different kind of services and they take up on “low” jobs which means that immigration is in some cases our welfare!

His presentation “Five questions about migration, five answers to convince” is available onhttp://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.fr.events-and-activities-immigration-wealth-duties-speeches.27310.

To this extent, Claus Folden, head of the Operational Support Centre in the European Asylum Support Office in Malta since 2011, also reinforced the thesis that migrants are not all the same. Refugees are for instance a totally different group. Some of them are traumatized and far more vulnerable. For this groups “we have to run protection, is unquestionable, legal and moral! We need them and they represent a very powerful group bringing new skills!”. “It is a question of international protection and of application of the asylum law within the EU 27 Member States rather than how many refugees we accept or not. It is not about numbers going up or down”.

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Mr. Folden’s presentation: “Why Europe should accept asylum seekers and refugees? Is this only a moral duty or also an (economic) opportunity for Europe?” is available on http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.fr.events-and-activities-immigration-wealth-duties-speeches.27311

 

immigration_pic8“We need to integrate THE OTHER”.

Jean-Paul Delevoye, President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council since November 2010, states “Politicians are always going to win voter… in the entire world one of the main subjects when it comes to human rights is about the protection of minorities. The majority will be always worried to have his daily life destabilized.”

“We have a paradox in the world today. That economy is far more important than politics and it is a crucial element. It’s about accessing markets. Economy could bring development and ultimately the integration of migrants. Thus, integration is also an economical issue. We have to show to the politicians the great added value migrants have in our economy, we need foreigners as a vector to lead our economic growth and prosperity. In order to do so, we need to strengthen our identities and we have to acculturate so we can integrate elements of the other culture. Integration is a mutual process.” 

“The whole immigration issue is cause of anxiety in Europe” 

Elizabeth Collett, Director of Migration Policy Institute Europe and Senior Advisor to MPI’s Transatlantic immigration_pic9Council on Migration greatly underlined that in Europe, a great deal of energy has been expended to quantify the costs and benefits of immigration. In reality, we should just accept the fact that the contribution of migrants is not just economic, but cultural and demographic.

She also offered a very enlightened comparative perspective by assessing a critical difference between Europe and US, which refers how the immigration is perceived in these two countries. In US, the changing communities represent a dynamic process because there is more sense of social mobility and the concept of immigration is intrinsic value. Also, in US, the concept of migrants entering the society is not in question, is more about how they can enter it.

The European society has to understand social mobility as a common good. The European States need to maximize opportunities instead of thinking just about the risks, because when the economic debate takes over the social discussion, than more sense of responsibility is simply needed.

Her presentation “Immigration as an opportunity- the transatlantic experience” is available on http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.fr.events-and-activities-immigration-wealth-duties-speeches.27312.

To conclude, EPN participated in the conference with great attention. There were a lot of interactive and animated moments where people from different backgrounds, nationalities and religion shared their point of views. As a whole, we deeply share the idea that it is just too easy to assume that in order to solve the problem; the EU needs more border control. Policy has an impact and we can do something.  As Elisabeth Collett perfectly put it “It is not only irresponsible but also quite lazy to say ‘we do not want immigration anymore, we have got enough of it.’ There are competing economies around the world and Europe is less attractive. How do we respond to those who want to stay? That is the question. Numbers are illusory! We have to handle labour markets flaws and go to see where the gaps in the laws are, not just stop immigration!”

EPN Report on Civil Society Day 2013

As European as we get! Civil Society Day 2013

The purpose of Civil Society Day 2013 was to illustrate how European citizenship can best be conceived and achieved if tied in with the economic, social and civic life of the European project and the policies that underpin it.

Beyond the ideals that have been proclaimed for decades, it is actually in people’s daily lives that active European citizenship must constantly renew itself and assert its relevance.

On the 6th of March civil society representatives from across the European Union came together in Brussels to celebrate European citizenship as part of Civil Society Day 2013: ‘As European as we get! Bringing economy, solidarity and democracy together’.

The Day was a “flagship” event for the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC), involving key civil society organizations, workshops, citizenship solutions against a backdrop of financial and social doubts across Member States.

Staffan Nilsson, President of the EESC, was thekeynote speaker at the event among others, including, Ms Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission and Jean-Marc Roirant, President of the European Civic Forum (FCE) and Co-chair of the EESC Liaison Group.

 Opening Speech by S. Nilsson: civsoc2

 “Bringing economy, solidarity and democracy together”

 “This is the fourth edition of the Civil Society Day, so this  initiative is rather young however with a solid ground. And let me  tell you why. The Civil Society Day is the living proof of a  partnership which is dear to me and to many of us in the EESC, a  partnership between the EESC and European civil society expert  networks in the form of what we call the Liaison Group. It is in the Liaison Group meetings last year that the civil society alliance for the European Year of Citizens was conceived and took form. This alliance is our partner for this conference and its members, European networks and national networks are here with us today”

Marking the European Year of Citizens 2013, the event illustrated the importance of active participation in the EU for individuals across all Member States.  The day was dedicated to debates about what civic participation genuinely means, and how commitment can be improved in the EU by these organisations and individuals.

Delegates explored how the economic, social and civic dimensions of EU citizenship could be reinforced across Member States, with discussion workshops opening important dialogues on issues of interest to stakeholders at a European level.

EPN would like to share their experience at such an event, as active citizenship is one of our main values, this concept defines us as an organisation and we believe that people in professional life need not only to increase their competences for better career opportunities but also be good examples of democratic participation in the societies they live in.

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“Without Citizens we can achieve nothing!”

During the first part of the programme, we would like to highlight, Ms.Antigoni Papadopoulou, Member of the European Parliament, Rapporteur for the European Year of Citizens ’13. She talked about what we should expect from the European Year of Citizens’, one year before the European elections. She believes in working together, in bringing voices together to share a common vision. She hopes for more integration and more sense of belonging. Her speech was very friendly  and motivating for the participants.

Later on, we had the opportunity to debate on a series of questions placed by the EESC. The main question at stake was – How to make local civil society heard at a European Level?  Amongst the speakers there was a general agreement on making citizens more visible. Media is the way to make the government listen. ‘Through media, citizens can make themselves heard’ said: Rob Hopkins from Transition Network.

Important discussion topics during the second part included another round of questions and further debate on exercising rights and engaging in civil society at a national level, strengthening the legitimacy of the EU and its institutions through participatory democracy and engaging youth in civil society.

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Anthony Allen, Research Director at TNS Opinion, presented the Flash Eurobarometer of “Europeans’ Engagement in Participatory Democracy” during the conference and these where the results:

“Even against the backdrop of the crisis, with growing unemployment and austerity in most parts of Europe, the Flash Eurobarometer shows that people are involved in and/or trust their community organisations. Relatively few people are, on average, members of civil society organisations. Yet the survey shows that there is a high-level of trust towards civil society among Europeans, who are confident that non-governmental organisations can play a political role and influence policies. However, civil society organisations are regarded in the survey as more likely to influence decision-making at local and national level (75% and 70% respectively) than at the level of the EU (53%).”

This subject created interest during theQ&A session between speakers and participants.

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 “Creating the conditions for citizens to participate, a change of culture in the institutions’ to meet the challenges of the crisis”

Amongst the speakers of the second workshop we would like to refer toCarlotta Besozzi, Director of the European Disability, Diogo Pinto, Secretary-General of the European Movement International and Ylva Tivéus, Director of Citizens’ Directorate, DG Communication, European Commission for their presentations on active and participatory citizenship for a more legitimate Europe. They were very inspiring and created a very energetic debate.

Overall, EPN team highly enjoyed the opportunity to participate in this event; we were overwhelmed with the amount of participants and the engaging interaction among the panel speakers. There were more than fifty major European civil society networks and EPN was one of them.

EPN Report on ACCA Event

“Fighting inequality and supporting diversity: Europe’s big challenge?”

ACCA President Debate-In association with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU

5th of March 2013, Bibliotheque Solvay, Parc Leopold, Brussel

The European Professionals Network (EPN) participated in the high-level 2013 President’s debate organized by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in Brussels last 5th March. ACCA, in association with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU, discussed with experts about what can be done to fight the inequalities and the discrimination in the workplace.

EPN is enthusiastic to report about this meeting because, justas for ACCA, diversity is one of our core values. In his welcome speech, ACCA Deputy President Martin Turner emphasized that:

  •      Last year, ACCA, in conjunction with the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) launched a report called “Women in finance: a springboard to corporate board positions?”.The findings showed that 45% of female executive directors are financially qualified and 65% have financial backgrounds; whereas only 26% of their male counterparts have financial qualifications and 44% come from financial backgrounds. This example implies that women still have to work harder to be considered equal to men. Another important issue that needs to be addressed is the ageing of the labor force and discrimination towards older workers.
  • ACCA has recently become a supporting member of the Global Board-Ready Women Initiative. This project aims to make companies available through an online database to a comprehensive list of international women who are experienced and ready to immediately take on mandates in listed companies. ACCA membership counts an impressive pool of such talented qualified women around the world, who are ready to shatter the infamous ‘glass ceiling’.

The first panel debated whether we are correctly tackling inequality and discrimination in the workplace. The panel speakers were Daniela Bankier, Head of Gender Equality Unit, DG justice, European Commission; Louise Richardson, Vice-President, AGEplatform; Kasper Paulig, Counsellor for Social Affairs, Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU; Cristina Vicini, Board Director and GBRW Founding Member, the Global Board-Ready Women Initiative.

 acca2Daniela Bankier, Head of Gender Equality Unit at DG Justice at the  European Commission, opened the debate by emphasizing the difficulties to  concentrate on these issues during this period of economic crisis. But we should  have hope. She gave a very inspirational speech by taking the example of  Ireland and its tremendous change at a legislative level over the last 40 years,  although before men and women lived in separate worlds. She said: “Yes, we  can change”.

Equality between women and men is a fundamental right as much as the right for equal payment. This last one goes back to 1957 when the principle of equal pay for equal work became part of the Treaty of Rome and became one of the European Union’s founding values. But “It is also something that you cannot just achieve, it is an ongoing process”. Despite the tangible achievements in the last 50 years, we still need to tackle some gender gaps, especially:

  • The female employment rate which has increased but now stuck and very low in some countries;
  • The share between women and men working part-time and the risk for women to accumulate less  pension which puts them at a greater risk of poverty;
  • The gender pay gaps are still a mirror of the inequality that women and men are facing in the labor acca3market: such as occupational segregation where women are noticeably more concentrated in the services sector than their male counterparts above all household activities, health and social services;
  • The reconciliation of private and work life is still not sufficiently addressed: raising children is not a burden but it has more weight in a women’s life and is more directly connected to their unstable working life and to the need of more child-care infrastructure (Barcelona priorities);
  • Women need more opportunities of access to higher positions: in the EU we see the shocking number of just 16% of women on boards and the trends are not getting better! If we do not take other measures now, the EU will take other 40 years to reach the parity in this field.

After having underscored these important points, Daniela Bankier continued by stressing that although the EU has made significant progress over the last decades, across the Member States and within them there is still a great difference between equality legislation standards as well as a significant disparity of opportunities between cities and the countryside. She ensured that the European Commission intends to monitor the progress of the Member States in meeting the Barcelona targets.

EPN also found the intervention coming from Cristina Vicini, Board Director and Global Board Ready acca4Women Founding Member as deeply inspiring.  Her approach reflected practical and a good example of successful career. She introduced the Global Board Ready Women Initiative and explained that it represents a list of women into an online database. The women on this list all fulfill stringent criteria for corporate governance as defined by publicly listed companies and are well qualified and ready to go on boards as of today. This ever growing list is consultable online for corporations and for executive search companies and certainly makes it clear that there are more than enough eminently qualified women to help lead Europe’s and the world’s corporations into the 21st century and that it is now time to shatter the glass ceiling that keeps these women from ascending to board of directors positions.

 She also made a very important point when speaking about companies looking for qualified women and new talents by asking a very good question to the audience: “Where are the women? Where are these talents which everybody speaks about? Apparently, it is difficult to find them”. She remarkably stated that our society is full of talented women but that the companies look for them in easy areas, that is to say they do not consider the power of networks and social capital.

Ms. Vicini affirmed: “Companies have to stretch themselves not only by looking for new acca5talents, but also by redefining what kind of talent they really need to build the company of the future”.  

“Some women are brave self-initiated professionals and we have to think beyond the borders. We must think independently of geography”.

 The Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reading was also recalled by Ms. Vicini, when the last 12th December 2012 at the launch of GBRW database, stated: “We need to use all of our society’s talents to ensure that Europe’s economy takes off. That is why the European Commission has proposed a European law for boosting gender balance in company board rooms”. I often hear the argument that there are not enough qualified women to occupy positions in the boardroom. Today European Business Schools and their colleagues around the world are shattering those myths as well as glass ceilings! The list shows that the qualified women are there – 8 000 of them. Companies should now make use of this untapped pool of talent.”

 To this extent, it is also essential to answer other key questions which often come up when we deal with quotas. “Are the women we put on boards really qualified? Or do we just make compromise to put them on boards? YES, they are! The GBRW initiative is more than a database – stated Ms. Vicini. It is growing rapidly and it shows that many women are competent qualified professionals. It’s about visibility and we want people to know it, we want to settle good example for young generations! Quotas are symbolic while role models are crucial.”

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Martin Turner, ACCA Deputy President 2012-2013 said: “Despite the tangible achievements in the last 50 years, recent studies have shown that the corporate world is far from making the most out of diversity – particularly gender diversity, especially for managerial positions. Another societal issue strongly linked to the broader issue of managing diversity in the work life. There is the matter of ageing of the labour force; age discrimination towards older workers. These needs to be addressed, new structures and approaches have to be developed to allow the increasing number of older workers to remain active in the labour market.”

The second panel discussed if we can do more -or better- to support diversity. This panel included Richard Howitt, MEP rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); Flavia Micilotta, Manager CSR, Diversity, Well-being and Engagement at Euroclear; Didier Millerot, Head of the Financial Reporting Unit, DG MARKT, European Commission; Marko Curavic, Head of Unit, Entrepreneurship 2020, DG ENTR, European Commission; Turid Elisabeth Solvang, Norwegian Institute of Directors, ecoDa; Evelyn Regner, MEP, Rapporteur on Gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges. 

Richard Howitt, MEP Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), stressed that: “Business acca7progress on diversity must not be a victim of the economic crisis. The gains that we have worked hard to secure are now under huge pressure and a lingering threat because of the ongoing economic uncertainty. The European Parliament has been clear in my report voted last month, on how the CSR has to be at the heart of a truly inclusive and long-term sustainable recovery. Vulnerable groups are often the first and hardest hit victims of an economic downturn such as children, disabled people or women. But as policymakers we must use all tools at our disposal including a better use of public procurement and an increased emphasis on social and human rights standards to ensure that a sustainable recovery is also an inclusive recovery.”

acca8 Marko Curavic, Head of Unit, Entrepreneurship, DG Enterprise & Industry,  called attention to SMEs which represent a very important source of job  creation and a good channel to include under-represented groups into the  labour market, stressing that the EU should use all their creativity. “Everybody  can create an enterprise but we need to empower those groups. Economic  empowerment goes hand in hand with the legal one and the right to create  one’s own business!” Also, there is a gap between women and men when it  comes to entrepreneurship. If we have less women entrepreneurs, it is hardly  because they lack confidence. It is because women are more diligent risk takers – according to the World Bank. Why? Because they get less finance and have more constraints when they want to start a business. Entrepreneurship in education is another fundamental element; it could triple the numbers of women in starting up their own company. In order to do this, we need to set good examples – role models – capable of conveying the message of success and attractiveness for new potential entrepreneurs.

The Commission has already opened a Women’s Entrepreneurship Portal, with links to contacts, events and networking opportunities within and between Member States. While the European Network to Promote Women’s Entrepreneurship (WES) brings together government representatives from 30 European countries to provide advice, support and information for female entrepreneurs, helping them to raise their profile and expand their businesses. It publishes an annual report of activity by national governments.

acca9 Evelyn Regner, MEP rapporteur on the topic for the Legal Affairs Committee,  highlighted that: “Diversity in boards is both fun and a tool of success, much  needed to reflect the whole picture in the society, to be competitive and get new  ideas. We all know it. Self regulation and the principle for a greater diversity on  boards has not yet worked out, we are currently dealing with market decline and  we need to move toward solutions. In terms of gender balance, quotas are a  valuable and motivating incentive. There is a strong need for an ambitious  legislative instrument – accompanied by sanctions if the goal is not reached – to  increase the number of women, not only in non-executive positions, but also as executive directors and in the middle management bodies of companies. The measure shall be temporary and when the directive will expire in 2028, hopefully we won’t be in the need of gender quotas anymore.”

The conclusions made by Fiona O’Sullivan, Justice Attaché representing the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU, resumed perfectly the whole aim of the conference: ‘Equality should not be seen as a cost but as a vital component of a strong economy where all citizens can contribute. It needs to be considered holistically: improving equality is also a way to improve the fiscal balance, to fight poverty and to strengthen the talent pool. Effective initiatives are not limited to government. We have heard today of innovative practices by enterprises, such as actions in the area of corporate social responsibility and in supporting entrepreneurship.”

EPN was flattered to participate in this conference and share the fundamental idea that there is an urgent need to shift the trend and tap into either largely unexploited – or badly exploited – sources of talent that more vulnerable segments of the population such as women, older or disabled workers represent.  There is an economic, societal and business dimension of this but, changing mentalities takes time. Incentives require stronger business and stakeholders’ engagement, a more focused attention from decision-makers, and better awareness-raising actions and dialogue with society.

 

EPN Report on International Women`s Day

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2013, EPN was glad to attend the Interparliamentary Committee Meeting held at the European Parliament and entitled “Women’s Response to the Crisis”. For the occasion, Members of the European Parliament and their national counterparts had the opportunity to share their views about the effects of the crisis on gender equality and the situation of women. Panel discussion focused on best practices from women-professionals, experiences from national parliaments and EU support towards Member States in strengthening women’s social and economic rights in the crisis.

What was mainly stressed during the meeting was that the European Union is addressing a great economic and financial crisis from which unemployment rates in the Member States have risen significantly as a result of it. The effects of this crisis are particularly serious for women who are affected directly – through loss of their jobs or job security – and indirectly via budget cuts in public services and welfare assistance. In fact, it was stated that women are now becoming the main victims of austerity measures. Budget cuts by governments implementing austerity plans are affecting the public sector which is mainly staffed in by women who represent approximately 70 % of the sector’s employees!

Moreover, unemployed women are often not included in official figures because they tend to withdraw from the labour market and to perform unpaid or informal work. Member States need to take seriously into consideration alternative measures in order not to fall back on what we have achieved so far. “The International Women Day is indeed an occasion to insist on the positive role played by women in Europe’s economy and on the whole of society”, underlined Mariya Gabriel, the EPP Group’s Spokeswoman on women’s rights and gender equality. “As a matter of fact, the European Union cannot afford to do without the managerial skills of half of its population. We must give more value to the way women are managing companies in these times of economic and financial crisis because their qualities are essential assets for companies and for the economy! Proof of this is that SMEs led by women are 10 to 20% more profitable than the average same-sized companies. Their turnover is 50% higher than the average (numbers from Women Equity Growth Index 2012)”.

Among the speakers, we wish to recall Sasha Bezuhanova, Director for Public Sector Growth Markets in HP and Chairperson of the Bulgarian Center of Women in Technologies. Her intervention was inspiring and rather realistic. She underlined that today the BRICs countries are the ones mastering the economic agenda in the world and the EU should be proactive in securing the technological dimension by making it accessible to everybody, above all women. If we can endow our market with more people handling technology and with a good accountability system, we could also let employees choose to work from home and women would benefit greatly from it. She gives the example of HP – her company – where 80% of employees can choose to work from home.

Similarly, EPN very much appreciated the intervention of Sylvia Walby,  Distinguished Professor of women1Sociology at Lancaster University and UNESCO Chair  in Gender Research since 2008. Her current research interests revolve around  gender and violence as well as gender and the crisis, moving between theory,  measurement and policy impact.

In response to the question of how the EU should tackle the social exposure that women are experiencing after the austerity cuts – above all in the health and educations sectors – she gave us her insight by resuming the two approaches that the supranational and national institutions should be able to balance: “Either we address the issue of gender equality because of its own rights and because it is good for everything else through directives and treaties, or we turn to the rights and the representation matter through affirmative action’s such as quotas. >>. About quotas, the general opinion agreed on the fact that we need them to cope with a certain mentality and show that we have capable women. In this sense, Sweden, Spain and Ireland are good examples. She also brought to the surface the issue of the ageing population, which is deeply related to the issue of life-long learning and the constant need of gaining new skills during the path of life.

During the second panel, we could assist the interventions by some Members of the National Parliaments. women2

 Carmen Quintanilla, Member of the Parliament of Ciudad Real and  Chairwomen of the Equality Committee in the Congress of Deputies in  Spain  stepped up and described the situation of women in Spain. She spoke  about the  ongoing reform process in Spain and the big fallback of the crisis  represented by the high unemployment rate, above all in the building  sector. Many women were hit hard by job losses and are more at risk of  poverty then men. To get by this situation, the Spanish government is trying to support the creation of jobs for women aged under 25 and further subside the unemployed people. However, to her eyes a lot has to be done and the Member States need to cooperate more and exchange good practices, especially in the fields of violence against women, conciliation between family and work life and the gender pay gap.

We could also hear from Roland Courteau, Vice-Chair of the Delegation for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality within the French Senate. He highlighted that to advance commitments in regard to gender equality and empowerment of women, we need to identify discriminatory attitudes and tackle gender stereotypes as a persistent and cross-cutting issue. He called for effective policy responses including in the area of education and media. He also stated that it is regrettable that the EU has got such a high rate of women in the sector where the jobs are unstable and underpaid. The French government intends to struggle the rising number of unemployed women by encouraging part-time jobs for women at every age.

The third and final panel was formed by Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, Vice-Chair of FEMM Committee at the European Parliament and László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, who prepared an inspiring video message for the occasion.


Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, MEP
and EP Rapporteur on the “Impact of the  economic crisis on Gender women3Equality and women’s Rights”, said: “Women are  confronted with a silent and pernicious crisis which aggravates and weakens their  situation. Before the economic and financial crisis, unemployment, precarious  work, part-time work, low salaries and slow career paths already affected women  more than men. Today, with the effects of austerity policies, they are suffering a  double punishment. The risk of falling into poverty has increased for them”, she explained.

We must continue to fight vigorously against all stereotypes in women’s work, such as the idea that women’s unemployment is less dramatic than men’s. What’s more, the fact that for equal work and competence, a gender pay gap of 16.2% still exists. This means women need to work 59 days more to achieve the annual pay of men which is an absolute scandal in a 21st century Europe”, continued Morin-Chartier. “When economic recovery takes off, qualified staff will be greatly needed. Young women, who on average are better educated than men as 60% of university graduates are women, are a great pool of competences. They will be our best arms for the competitiveness of our companies, who would be well advised not to do without them”. She concluded by saying that “16.2% gender pay gap is intolerable!”.


women4 László Andor
’s inspiring video message for the occasion:Women’s day is a  day for reflecting on how far we have got in terms of gender equality.  Gender equality is not only a fundamental right, but also vital to  the growth, prosperity and competitiveness of Europe’s  economies. With the population growing older, birth rates falling and the  prospect of skill shortages ahead, taking advantage of everyone’s talents and  making gender diversity a growth asset is more important than ever. We cannot ignore the way in which the crisis has affected gender-equality. When the crisis first hit, the gender employment gap narrowed because the crisis mainly affected sectors like construction and car manufacturing where men were predominant. But since then, cuts in public sector employment and public spending appear to have had a significant adverse effect on the gender gap. This is due to some extent to the fact that women are over-represented in the public sector. They also tend to depend more on access to certain services, including childcare, long-term care and health care.

Reaching the Europe 2020 Strategy targets for employment and poverty reduction should strengthen women’s social and economic rights. Yet the figures are disappointing. The female employment rate varies widely across the EU, but it is lower than that of males in all Member States. In 2011, the employment rate for men stood at 70.1 % in the EU-27, as compared with 58.5 % for women. What is more, one man in ten worked part-time on average, but the average for women was three in ten. Working part-time may be a choice, but it often goes hand in hand with lower hourly earnings, fewer training opportunities, less job security, and reduced pension entitlements. This can be put down partly to unpaid household, childcare and long-term care tasks. Women’s working conditions have moreover become more insecure and their income has dropped significantly. This is due to the persistent gap between salaries for men and women and the resulting lack of equality in unemployment benefit, and the rise in imposed part-time working and in the number of temporary or fixed term jobs.

Another major factor is skills. Although women are doing better than men in almost all disciplines throughout the OECD countries, the numbers of female graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are still low. And the women who do graduate in these fields, where labour market demand is high, often choose not to work in them. By combating gender stereotypes in early schooling, education and training systems and providing more apprenticeships for young women in businesses, more women could be encouraged to study these disciplines and to pursue a career in these fields. Temporary or part-time work, single-parent households, pay gaps and career breaks also help to explain why 12 million more women than men live in poverty in the EU.
women5 In a situation where welfare is among the first targets of budget cuts, we  need to  remember that social protection plays a vital role in preventing  women from falling into  poverty and in helping to lift them out of it.  Moreover, social spending which leads to  more gender equality should be  seen as a social investment. This is one the messages  we conveyed with the  Social Investment Package adopted on 20th February. It recalls  for  instance that the transition from part-time to full-time working could be  facilitated  by the provision of available, affordable childcare and out-of  school services.

For its part, the Commission will continue to closely monitor the Member  States’  progress on gender equality through the European Semester.  During the last Semester  nine Member States have received country-  specific recommendations on gender  equality or fostering a better work-life  balance. Most concern the provision of adequate  and affordable care  services, while some concern better fiscal treatment of second-earners. Two  Member States received recommendations on a high gender pay gaps.

It is also important to recall how the EU Structural Funds can be used to  strengthen women’s social and economic rights. European Social Fund  actions have a strong added value in terms of promoting gender equality in the Member States. And the Commission’s proposal for the next programming period offers major possibilities for reinforcing gender equality.

The goal of full gender equality may seem like a mirage that retreats before you as you advance towards it. But our future growth and prosperity will depend on how successful we are in harnessing the talents of all and women in particular.