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Social inclusion in EU

Renewed Social Agenda

An ambitious agenda designed to ensure that European Union policies respond effectively to today's economic and social challenges was adopted by the European Commission on 2 July 2008.

What is the issue?

Technological change, globalisation and an ageing population are transforming Europe's societies.  EU policies need to keep pace with these trends, and help people adapt to changing circumstances. The renewed social agenda aims to create more opportunities for EU citizens, improve access to quality services and demonstrate solidarity with those who are affected negatively by change.

How will the renewed social agenda help?

The EU has limited powers and responsibilities, but it can make a real difference to people's lives by working in partnership with Member States and stakeholders. Over the last 50 years, the EU has successfully promoted growth and jobs, gender equality and better working conditions. It has helped to tackle discrimination, poverty and inequalities between regions. 

Building on these achievements, the renewed social agenda brings together a range of EU policies in order to support action in seven priority areas: 

  • Children and youth - tomorrow's Europe
  • Investing in people: more and better jobs, new skills
  • Mobility
  • Longer and healthier lives
  • Combating poverty and social exclusion
  • Fighting discrimination and promoting gender equality
  • Opportunities, access and solidarity on the global scene  

How will it work?

The Commission is proposing to use a mix of different policy tools to achieve the objectives set out in the renewed social agenda: 

  • EU legislation (eg proposals on tackling discrimination outside the labour market, patients' rights in cross-border health care, improving the functioning of European Works Councils)
  • Social dialogue (encouraging representatives of workers and employers to make full use of the possibilities offered by the European Social Dialogue)
  • Cooperation between member States (in particular, reinforced cooperation in the area of social protection and social inclusion)
  • EU funding (mobilising the EU's Structural Funds, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund and the PROGRESS Programme on employment and social solidarity)
  • Partnership, dialogue and communication (involvement and consultation of non-governmental organisations, regional and local authorities and other stakeholders)
  • Ensuring that all EU policies promote opportunities, access and solidarity (screening new initiatives for social and employment impacts)   

The Social Protection Committee

EU social protection systems face a series of significant common challenges - for example, the need to adapt to the changing world of work, new family structures and the dramatic demographic changes of the forthcoming decades.

In response to these challenges, a group of high-level officials has been established in 2000 to serve as a vehicle for cooperative exchange between the European Commission and the Member States about modernising and improving social protection systems: the Social Protection Committee.

The Committee's work since its establishment has been largely determined by the strategic goal for the EU's socio-economic progress set out at the Lisbon European Council of March 2000 "to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion."

The main instrument for policy exchange and coordination between the Member States is the Open Method of Coordination, under which Member States agree on common objectives and prepare at regular intervals National Strategy Reports that are then evaluated jointly by the Commission and the Council in the Joint Report on social protection and social inclusion. The implementation of the OMC in social protection and social inclusion encompasses three strands: social inclusion, pension reform and healthcare and long-term care.

In carrying out its functions the Social Protection Committee works closely with other Committees charged with working on EU-level social and economic policy, most notably the Employment Committee (EMCO) and the Economic Policy Committee (EPC).

The process: the Open Method of Coordination

In broad areas of economic, employment and social policy the Member States have to meet reform challenges that are similar throughout Europe. The convergence of challenges has been driven by the economic integration within the internal market, and the effects of the fast changing global economy, technological innovation and demographic change. Therefore, a new instrument was needed which supports the Member States in their reform efforts, while respecting their legal competences.

Set up at the Lisbon European Council of March 2000, the Open Method of Coordination provides this framework of political coordination without legal constraints. Member States agree to identify and promote their most effective policies in the fields of Social Protection and Social Inclusion with the aim of learning from each others' experiences.

This is a flexible and decentralised method, which involves:

Taking over from the Community Action Programme to combat social exclusion,   PROGRESS, the EU's new integrated programme for employment and social solidarity supports, since January 2007, the goals set out in the Social Agenda and contributes to the Union's wider strategy for jobs and growth.

In July 2008, the European Commission proposes to reinforce the Open Method of Coordination in the social field to allow the EU to achieve better results for the 2008-2010 period and pave the way for the introduction of a sound framework post-2010.
The communication, adopted by the European Commission identifies four priority areas:

  • Increasing political commitment and visibility
  • Strengthening the positive interaction with other EU policies;
  • Reinforcing the analytical tools;
  • Better ownership through peer reviews, mutual learning and involvement of all relevant actors.

New common objectives from 2006

On basis of the Commission Communication "Working together, working better: A new framework for the open coordination of social protection and inclusion policies in the European Union" (see below), the European Council adopted in March 2006 a new framework for the social protection and social inclusion process.

The existing open methods of coordination in the fields of social inclusion and pensions, and the current process of co-operation in the field of health and long-term care, are brought together under common objectives and simplified reporting procedures.

The overarching objectives of the Open Method of co-ordination for social protection and social inclusion are to promote:

  • social cohesion, equality between men and women and equal opportunities for all through adequate, accessible, financially sustainable, adaptable and efficient social protection systems and social inclusion policies;
  • effective and mutual interaction between the Lisbon objectives of greater economic growth, more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, and with the EU's Sustainable Development Strategy;
  • good governance, transparency and the involvement of stakeholders in the design, implementation and monitoring of policy.

Common indicators

Defining common objectives in terms of social protection and social inclusion implies the definition of common indicators to compare best practices and to measure progress towards these common objectives. As such, common indicators do not mean common policies.

The broad methodological framework consists of a list of primary and secondary indicators for an overarching portfolio and the three strands (Social Inclusion, Pension, Health and Long-Term Care). Primary indicators are a reduced set of lead indicators, which cover all essential dimensions of the defined objectives. Secondary indicators aim at supporting these lead indicators by providing a greater insight into the nature of the problem.

These indicators are used for the overall National Reports on Strategies for Social Protection and Social Inclusion and the specific National Reports on the different strands (Social Inclusion, Pension, Health and Long-Term Care) as well as for the joint report presented by the European Commission and the Council.

New common indicators from 2006

In June 2006, the Social Protection Committee adopted a set of common indicators for the social protection and social inclusion process.

It consists of a portfolio of

  • 14 overarching indicators (+11 context indicators) meant to reflect the newly adopted overarching objectives (a) "social cohesion" and (b) "interaction with the Lisbon strategy growth and jobs objectives";
  • and of three strand portfolios for social inclusion, pensions, and health and long-term care.

The use of commonly agreed indicators to monitor progress towards commonly agreed objective is an essential component of the OMC policy coordination process.

 In this context, indicators have been agreed using a consensual approach and using a set of criteria which include comparability based on sound EU harmonised data, policy responsiveness, clear normative interpretation, focus on outcomes, etc.

The ISG also agreed on a new typology of indicators which distinguish between those that can directly be used for benchmarking, and those that can only be used to monitor progress within a single country.

Joint reports

A key feature of the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) is the joint analysis and assessment by the European Commission and the Council of the National Reports on Strategies for Social Protection and Social Inclusion submitted by the Member States. The Joint Reports assess progress made in the implementation of the OMC, set key priorities and identify good practice and innovative approaches of common interest to the Member States.

Two Joint Reports on Social Inclusion have been adopted, in 2002 and 2004, drawing respectively upon the National Action Plans on Social Inclusion of 2001-2003 and 2003-2005.

As of 2005, and in order to streamline the OMC process, by drawing together work in the areas of social inclusion, pensions and healthcare, an annual Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion started to be published.

National Strategic Reports

Following the streamlining of the Open Method of Coordination on Social Protection and Social Inclusion, Member States are now charged with translating the common objectives into National Plans for each of the three areas of Social Inclusion, Pensions and Health and Long-Term Care. These plans, which cover a period of two years, are submitted to the Commission in the form of a National Report on Strategies for Social Protection and Social Inclusion.

Find out more

PROGRESS website


Introductory leaflet to Progress


Directorate-General for Employment,Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities


Social Agenda 2005-10


Lisbon Strategy


Open Methods of Coordination


Better Regulation Agenda


European Social Fund