Spain must maintain our social impetus, says Belgian minister

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Series Details Vol.7, No.47, 20.12.01, p4
Publication Date 20/12/2001
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Date: 20/12/01

By Martin Banks

SPAIN has been urged to work towards a more socially conscious Europe when it takes over the EU presidency next month.

Frank Vandenbroucke, Belgium's pensions and social affairs minister, says it is crucial that the measures pursued by his country in the past six months are followed through.

As Brussels prepares to hand over the presidency to Spain on 1 January, Vandenbroucke told European Voice: "The challenge to Spain is to keep the momentum going."

He said he was "delighted" with Belgium's achievements in three key areas of social policy: pensions, free movement of workers and poverty.

"Our mandate was to deliver in these three areas. Some said that was ambitious but I believe we have been 100 successful."

The 46-year-old former deputy prime minister added: "On the issue of pensions, we have worked out a balanced set of proposals that all EU member states can adhere to.

"This aims to ensure that pensions are adequate, systems are sustainable and that they can respond to change.

"Pension systems should ensure that elderly people never end their lives in poverty," he said.

On the free movement of workers, he said the Belgians had managed to create a framework that will guide the Spanish presidency through the "complexities of the existing regulations".

"The regulation that coordinates social security rights for people moving around Europe needs streamlining.

"It has become an actual impediment to mobility - the thing we are supposed to be encouraging.

"With the pending enlargement of the EU, we need a simple rule that is easily understandable. People should be able to move without having to worry about the organisation of their social security rights.

"This, again, is one of the challenges facing Spain during its presidency."

He pointed out that Belgium had also reached agreement on 18 "indicators", which will be used as the basis for judging each member state's performance in tackling poverty and social exclusion.

He said he hoped Spain will broaden these to include health and housing.

Vandenbroucke, who took up his post two years ago, said he would be asking the Spanish presidency to submit a report to the next EU summit, in Barcelona in March, assessing the impact on EU-wide healthcare systems of an ageing population, the European single market and free movement of patients.

Vandenbroucke, who, despite his heavy schedule, still manages to work as a visiting lecturer

in social policy at Leuven University, said he was also looking to Denmark, which takes over the rotating EU presidency in the second half of 2002, to live up to the promises made at Lisbon and Nice.

"The Belgian presidency and Laeken Declaration are just a step forward. If we are to achieve our objective of a more socially conscious and inclusive Europe, the work we have started must continue,"he said.

"We have heard a lot about a "social model" being developed for Europe.

"Well, I hope that we have helped define what this means and also set in motion some of the key social policies that will actually bring it about for our citizens.

"I just hope that future presidencies can live up to the expectations created in the past six months and before.

"If not, we will have failed."

Report of comments by Begium's pensions and social security minister Frank Vandenbroucke at the end of the Belgian EU Presidency, December 2001.

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