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Europe and Poverty: what is the real situation?

Editor : Fondation Robert Schuman
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Although there is still no common non-monetary index to gauge poverty within the European Union it is possible however to say that poverty is regressing long term in spite of disparities which remain major. Although we are far from having eradicated poverty it has diminished greatly. There are less poor people in the European Union today than in the 1970's.

In the social domain where competencies are still national the European Union has undeniably become aware of its role regarding poverty and exclusion. Making up for lost time on the part of regions that are lagging behind, the overall increase in wealth and the regression of poverty are the clearest evidence of this.

The European Council of Lisbon in March 2000 laid the foundations of convergence between Member States with regard to the fight against exclusion or, in european terms, "social inclusion". In 2001 during the European Council of Laeken the Heads of State and government approved the first set of 18 common statistical indicators as well as an "open co-ordination method" to circulate States' best practices in terms of poverty and social exclusion. In parallel to the traditional indicators to gauge monetary poverty structural indicators were also selected with regard to employment, healthcare and education. Since then the list has been added to and now includes around twenty indicators one of which refers to poor workers.

According to the definition decided upon in Laeken the countries of southern Europe (Portugal, Greece, Spain and Italy) and the Anglo-Saxon countries (UK and Ireland) generally reveal higher than average poverty levels. The Scandinavian countries traditionally produce better results whilst the large continental countries lie near the average scores. Of the ten new Member States the average monetary poverty level is close to that of the 15 other Member States. This result which is a priori surprising is simply the expression of the relativity of the notion of poverty which is defined by national systems of reference. Hence beyond all expectations the Czech Republic has the lowest poverty levels in the entire Union.

The authors: Sarah Bouquerel and Pierre-Alain de Malleray former students of the Ecole Polytechnique, executive civil servants and lecturers in economy at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris.
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Sarah Bouquerel
Pierre-Alain de Malleray
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