On the 20th April we were received by Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, her cabinet member Jonathan Stabenow and Stefan Olsson, Head of Unit in DG EMPL. We really appreciate, that Commissioner Thyssen took time out of her busy schedule to meet with us, and we were able to give her in person a copy of the European Reconciliation Package, which we published in March 2015, following a year-long campaign and collaboration on the issue of reconciling work and family life in Europe.
Commissioner Thyssen confirmed how important families are for society, and that policies aiming at supporting families, especially those in a vulnerable situation, like single parents, parents who have both little children and ageing relatives, working parents and carers are very important for Europe. Many of the issues we at COFACE are active on are at the heart of the new Commission’s policies.
The discussion turned to the issue of closing the existing gaps, between employed and unemployed people, between the employed and unemployed young people, which is a chronic problem now, but will also become a crisis for the future. Our Vice-President Antonia Torrens gave a first-hand account to the Commissioner about the experience of Greek families, where parents, sometimes already retired, are financially supporting their adult, unemployed children. We agreed, that investing in quality early childhood programmes are one of the crucial pillars in tackling this problem.
The COFACE delegation also presented the Commissioner the #FamiliesVOTE 2014 campaign and publication, with which we were aiming to inform our 30 million member families about the different political programmes of the Main European Parliamentary groups. As a former MEP herself, Commissioner Thyssen knows well the stakes at the EP and its composition. In terms of progressive, non-discriminatory family organisation, sometimes our job is simply to swim against the tide, and offer all families an alternative voice towards the European decision makers.
We also touched upon the review of the Europe 2020 strategy and objectives (COFACE and members participated at the open consultation) as well as the European Semester (we mentioned our Capacity building seminar). We agreed, that the European Semester policy coordination process is more social, than before, and that many of the country specific recommendations refer to family policy related issues. We also stated, that Member States also have to find their own solutions that fits within their own context, and there needs to be a more nuanced approach from the Commission towards individual member states.
The discussion also turned to the issue of families being concerned by different policies both at national and EU levels, and the communication and coordination challenges between the different DGs of the Commission and ministerial departments in the Member States. This concerns particularly the issue of leaves, allowances, and service provision, where families are sometimes totally left to fend for themselves, without adequate financial support, of accessible, affordable and quality services. This issue concerns in particular families with a disabled child, or other dependent family member, or families in a particularly vulnerable situation, be it financial, geographic disadvantage or due to other circumstance.
In closing we explored how we can use the UN ECOSOC consultative status of COFACE for more work on an intergovernmental level, also in relation to EU member states, and exchange of experience with 3rd countries.
The excellent meeting finished with a photo of the COFACE delegation handing over the European Reconciliation Package to Commissioner Thyssen, and mutual reassurances of the continued engagement and support to the objectives that unite both COFACE and the Commission.