21st Sep 2023

MEPs demand directive for adequate EU minimum income

  • According to a report, no European minimum income scheme matches current needs of beneficiaries to have a minimum standard of living (Photo: Andre Taissin)
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The European Parliament on Tuesday (14 March) passed a call for the EU Commission to improve minimum income coverage across the EU — through a binding measure for the EU-27, such as a directive.

MEPs sitting in Strasbourg passed the motion, with 336 votes in favour.

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Minimum income schemes aim to benefit those who do not have a job, or even when they do, can not make ends meet.

This is about a young person who can not study without his parent's support. This is about a divorced woman who has to take care of her children and work at the same time. This is about a person with a long-term illness who can not work, explained Green MEP Sara Matthieu during Tuesday's plenary session.

"We need an adequate minimum income that ensures that every European citizen is able to buy food, to afford their rent, to be able to pay their electricity bills, and to be able to find a good job", she said.

The EU Council already adopted a new recommendation in January. The previous one dated back to 1992.

As S&D MEP Estrella Durá told EUobserver, this rule does not oblige member states to set up adequate minimum income schemes to ensure that no one ends up in poverty or social exclusion.

The recommendations are not delivering results at the required pace. The latest Eurostat figures estimate that 95.4 million people are trapped in this situation. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have only worsened the context.

"Despite the ever-worsening cost of living crisis, most minimum income schemes across the EU have remained almost unchanged in the past decade," Social Platform, an umbrella group of European social NGOs, told EUobserver.

According to a report from the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN), no European minimum income scheme matches the current needs of beneficiaries to have a minimum standard of living. Just two, Ireland and Netherlands, set this level above the poverty line.

"After we succeeded in anchoring an adequate minimum wage in European law, we need to do the same with the minimum income," said S&D spokesperson on employment Agnes Jongeirus just after the vote. "The Commission's recommendation is clearly not enough".

Safety nets — with big holes

The parliament's call for a directive includes three essential points: more coverage (above the poverty line), better accessibility (especially for vulnerable groups) and adequacy (so they reach everyone who is entitled to receive this support).

Between 30-50 percent of those who are eligible for these schemes, do not seek their help, EU commissioner Nicholas Schmit said on Tuesday. It needs to be ensured, Schmit added, that these safety nets are "up to the task".

However, Schmit stated that a directive does not fall within the scope of the treaties, who do not allow them to intervene in member states' social policies.

Both council and commission passed the ball to the member states' court, asking them to reduce administrative burdens, ensure that a person follows the process step-by-step, simplify the process, work at reducing stigmas and promoting social awareness of the aid.

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The minimum income guarantee was a condition included in the coalition agreement between the Socialists and the leftist group Unidas Podemos, after the indecisive results of the November national elections.

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The commission is reviewing the 2011 single permit directive for third-country nationals to live and work in the EU. A new study shows that its design facilitates the exploitation and increases the dependency of migrant workers on their employers.

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