The chair of the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) believes Europe should set a minimum wage no lower than 70% of the average wage in each country.
The European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) is one of the main international networks of NGOs with a specific focus on fighting poverty and exclusion and has been working since 1999 doing advocacy at the EU.
Carlos Susías, the chair of the EAPN and its Spanish section, tells us why it is so important for the non-profit sector to do advocacy work.
Which are the main keys to put social pressure on Europe from a non-profit European network like yours?
We must show that behind this network there is a part of society that is committed and that we count with affected communities directly; in our case, those affected by poverty or social exclusion. Not only do we need non-profit professionals with experience, we must also take note of the opinions of those affected, because they know perfectly well what they are living and what type of proposals may help them out.
What do you need to do advocacy work in Brussels?
The larger the network, the more possibility one has to do advocacy work in Europe. You need to be aware of the territorial levels. To be successful in Europe you need to be strong in each of the European nations and states. Pressure must come from different places. Advocacy plays at many different levels: the European Parliament, the Commission, member states...and all this requires a great level of coordination.
How does the EAPN participate in European governance?
The European Parliament offers many opportunities to do cross-cutting advocacy work and place topics that affect a large number of citizens at the centre of the agenda. We talk to parliamentarians and then we work with the European Commission, where technical aspects are decided. There are also important informal mechanisms such as meetings with civil society where we discuss how the measures adopted by the EU are being implemented. The most difficult place to do advocacy is at the European Council, which gathers the presidents and prime ministers of each member state.
What about consultations?
Public consultations are taken good note of. For instance, in one of the most recent consultations, the Commission asked EU citizens what Europe they would like. The EAPN wrote a reply form that can be used by all social entities concerned with social exclusion and poverty wishing to take part in the consultation.
Could you give me a success story thanks to political advocacy done by a non-profit organization in Brussels?
When the Lisbon Agenda strategy was completed they had deleted from the list the goals of poverty eradication; then, in 2010, the Commission launched a consultation asking about topics that were important for civil society and then European social organizations moved to mobilize for this goal to be placed back on the list. When the consultation concluded, not only was it put back on the list, but it also became of the 5 goals of the 2030 Agenda. This is one example of how citizens can have a say on what the Commission does.
What would your recommendation be for NGOs that want to start doing advocacy in Europe and don’t know how to get started?
First they should do advocacy in their country; they must also realise that one thing is doing advocacy and another completely different one is to find a funding programme.
Can social organizations access European funding?
There are calls in the Commission, and also in other institutions that are open in different member states. There are many programmes financed by the EU. At a state level, recently a programme has been launched for social economy, with the name Poises, for the submission of projects and programmes with a budget of at least 5 million Euro available.
So, you need very high budgets, right?
They attach a great value to technical capacity and financial solvency. These funding programmes are conceived for social organizations, but they must meet certain conditions. If you apply for a project with 5 million Euros, you know that payment won’t be automatic, but rather must be justified. Therefore, you must be aware that you’ll spend a year with expenses before you get the grant. Very often, several organizations come together, doing it alone is very difficult.
Which European social directives or other instruments to tackle poverty are urgent and have not yet been approved?
The EU must have a greater impact on social issues. During the crisis, the EU had no competencies in fiscal harmonization and then took up these competencies to increase the fiscal rigour of its member states. The same is needed for social issues. Social policies should not be just the responsibility of each member state. We need to elements: funding for the EU and passing directives that can set a European minimum wage, basic income, a subsidy per child, equality between men and women...
As for the European minimum wage, and bearing in mind the economic differences between countries, how would this work? The minimum wage in Bulgaria is 250 Euros and in Luxembourg it is 2,000.
It could be set taking as a reference the average wage in each member state. For instance, a European minimum wage could be set to be at least 70% of the average wage in each country.
Do you think the future lies in granting basic income for all?
Right now, we aren’t calling for a basic income; rather we prefer a system of minimum wages. We’re open to the discussion, but before we see a basic income, years could go by and people who live in exclusion have problems today and need solutions now. They can’t wait while we discuss what we would like. We would like minimum wages were families’ income, subsidies for children as well as housing aid.