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Europe

EU 'scoreboard' to tally austerity's social costs

Critics of EU austerity measures have spent years pointing toward untold human suffering. But how about quantifying it? An EU Commission proposal aims to do just that - but might not be enough.

It's a day when much is measured, evaluated and coordinated in the halls of Brussels. The 28 member states of the European Union have laid bare their individual economic policy plans and budget proposals, submitting them for appraisal by the EU's executive arm, the European Commission. The Commission then advises the states on the implementation of those plans.

For the 17 states of the currency union, or eurozone, the day might also mark the beginning of a punitive process triggered by excessive budget deficits - typically when countries fail over the long term to adhere to EU criteria for outstanding debts or newly-acquired ones.

Beyond those recommendations, there are numerous economic development prognoses, unemployment statistics and, every three months, a new report regarding social welfare in the Union. But when it comes to social welfare and economic policy questions, national governments and parliaments make the final decisions.

But this week, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Laszlo Andor called for the creation of a new "scoreboard" that would keep track of social discrepancies across the bloc.

"The divergence would best be measured by a specific scoreboard that would highlight negative developments," said the Hungarian politician, adding it would include general as well as youth unemployment, threat of poverty to workers, disposable household income and the income gap between the richest 20 percent and poorest 20 percent of the population.

A scoreboard of social welfare would aim to render clear the effects austerity and consolidation policies in all EU countries - but particularly those in Europe's crisis-stricken south.

More measures, more problems?

European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Laszlo Andor addresses the media, at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. The European Union's employment chief sees the financial crisis creating a ''new divide'' between the north and south, deepened by record unemployment and a fraying social security net which are unlikely to improve in 2013. (Foto:Yves Logghe/AP/dapd)

Andor proposed tracking a number of socio-economic factors across EU nations

But Andor has not revealed just how the EU would address any grievances found within that scoreboard. The EU neither plans to inject additional funds into struggling labor markets nor fine countries that fail to meet its standards. Still, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was keen to emphasize the utility of such a measure

"I think it's very important," he said. "It shows the attachment we have to the social dimension."

In doing so, the EU Commission is fulfilling an order given to it by heads of state and government in June to take a stronger observatory and advisory role in the "social welfare dimension" of the economic and currency union.

Barroso also announced that the EU Commission would avoid certain legislative initiatives so that the economy would not be burdened by the weight of more legislation in the future.

"There are many areas where we need European regulation," he said. "But there are other issues that can be better dealt with at the national or regional level."

Austerity doubts

For some time now, the president of the EU Commission has been concerned that the European Union is viewed by many of the EU's 500 million citizens as little more than a bureaucratic monstrosity set on applying strict savings programs - all at the cost of domestic social welfare.

A beggar in Athens holds a sign that says I am hungry Photo: picture alliance/Robert Geiss

A beggar in Athens lets people know he is hungry

A recent opinion poll confirmed Barroso's fears. According to Gallup, 51 percent of Europeans reject austerity measures imposed by donor countries on those receiving aid. Only 5 percent saw positive results. Not surprisingly, 94 percent of Greek's said they rejected conditions associated with aid measures in their current form.

Social welfare

For EU parliamentarian and Left Party member Gabi Zimmer, the last few weeks especially have seen leading EU representatives embrace issues like unemployment and poverty risks. She told DW that Barroso and Andor are now on the right path but have not gone far enough.

"As long as people have to fight for survival, it's absurd to talk about paying back debts," said the chairperson of the EU Parliament's United Left fraction. "When the conditions necessary for humans to live in dignity can't even be met - and the European Union shares responsibility for that - there's no way to talk about debts at all."

European Parliament President Martin Schulz also criticized Andor's plan as "not ambitious enough" and "long overdue." The Social Democrat from Germany would like to see 25 percent of the EU's structural funds applied to social welfare projects in the future.

Greece's Left

Alexis Tsipras, Photo: Bernd Riegert, alle Rechte

Tsipras said Greece doesn't need a scorecard to know the costs of austerity

In spite of reforms and drastic austerity measures, youth unemployment has hardly improved. On Tuesday (01.10.2013), Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, released its newest findings on youth unemployment. Europe-wide, unemployment for those under age 25 remains as high as one year ago. In Greece, that number is at 61.5 percent, and in Spain it's 56 percent.

In Greece, potential elections could lead to Alexis Tsipras of the Coalition of the Radical Left - Unitary Social Front (SYRIZA) becoming president of Greece in the future. He was in Brussels for political meetings when the EU announced its latest plan.

"The truth has got to get out in the open," he told DW, citing what he called "barbaric" conditions in his home country. Tsipras also called for a European equivalent to the United States' post-WWII "Marshall Plan" reconstruction program.

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