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17/02/2012 Renewed appeal for a European strategy on homelessness

Meeting in an icy Strasbourg for the plenary session on Monday February 13th, MEPs debated a very topical issue – the situation for Europe’s homeless. In the presence of Commissioner Michel Barnier, MEPs called for a European strategy to fight homelessness and food waste, to extend the European food aid programme and to provide better access to social services of general interest in order to fight social exclusion. In an interview with Toute l’Europe, Belgian MEP Frédéric Daerden talked about the debate and the creation of a special fund to help the homeless.

A new special fund to help the homeless

In this call addressed to José Manuel Barroso, Martin Schulz and Herman Van Rompuy (presidents of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU respectively), MEPs called for two things, explained Frédéric Daerden, firstly “an urgent meeting of representatives from national governments as it is vital for Europe to be able to analyse what every country is doing in this area [and secondly] the establishment of a special fund to help Member States”.

European definition of the poverty threshold

A person is considered at risk of poverty if they are living on an income that is less than 60% of the median income in that country.

The budget for this fund was not mentioned during the debate. “The European Commission recognised the importance of the problem but did not take on our demands”, said the S&D MEP regretfully. He criticised the European Commission for letting Member States shoulder the responsibility saying that “unfortunately we did not get the response we were hoping for”.
MEPs were reminded that more than 600 people died of the cold in Europe over recent weeks. Even though it is a Member State competence, the problem has reached such sizable proportions that the European Union should play a role in addressing the issue. They also noted that their third call for a European strategy to fight homelessness has thus far not been acted on.

Using the European platform against poverty and social exclusion

Launched in 2010, the platform is part of the Europe 2020 Strategy for intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth. As one of the seven flagship initiatives of this strategy, the instrument on poverty and social exclusion details the measures undertaken at all levels to fulfil the European objective of reducing poverty.  It is complementary and strongly linked to the other flagships which focus on raising employment and improving education and skills.
The European platform against poverty and social exclusion “aims to take 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by 2020”, said Frédéric Daerden. The Belgian MEP is author of a report adopted on November 15th by the European Parliament which calls on the European Commission to report annually on the progress made by Member States to reduce poverty and social exclusion.

Within the European Union, there are more than 80 million people at risk of poverty including 20 million children and representing 8% of the workforce.

According to Frédéric Daerden, this platform should provide an opportunity to “exchange best practices and give a roadmap of what each Member State is providing but it should also be an instrument to incentivise Member States to act on their legislation and not to wait until 2020.”

“In addition to my work as an MEP, I am also a mayor in Belgium. We also have a homelessness problem and we have taken initiatives at local level. These kinds of initiatives should be integrated into a framework so that they can be rolled out in the same way across all Member States.”
During this first day of the plenary session, speakers from different political groups also called on Member States to put an end to the criminalisation of homeless people in some Member States.

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