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Linking local policy making to high level EU goals
A meeting of representatives of the 31 Public Participation Networks in Ireland to discuss how their experience of policy making at a local level, in particular informing the development of local economic plans and social plans can inform the discussion around developing a stronger and fairer economy, where social and environmental issues have equal priority with economic issues.
Relazione sull'evento1. Introduction Social Justice Ireland is an independent think tank and justice advocacy organisation that advances the lives of people and communities through providing independent social analysis and effective policy development to create a sustainable future for every member of society and for societies as a whole. We welcomed the opportunity to host an event as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe on ‘a fairer and inclusive economy’, a theme from the conference topic ‘A stronger economy, social justice and jobs’. In line with public health guidance, the event was held virtually. We invited representatives from each of the thirty one Public Participation Networks in Ireland to this event. Public Participation Networks (PPNs) are collectives of environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary organisations in local authority area which (i) facilitate the participation and representation of communities in a fair, equitable and transparent manner through the environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary sectors on decision making bodies; (ii) strengthen the capacity of communities and of the environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary groups to contribute positively to the community in which they reside/participate; and (iii) provide information relevant to the environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary sector and acts as a hub around which information is distributed and received. Social Justice Ireland feels that it is important that the experience and expertise of policy making at a local level informs the high level goals of the Conference on the Future of Europe and feeds into the outcome of this process. This event was also an opportunity to explore the impact of European Union policy at a local level through the experience of the PPNs. 2. Values The key values of well being, fairness, inclusiveness, social and environmental justice are important and must lead to policies that ensure that everyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or socio-economic status has access to services, access to a decent income and access to information. The EU must be clear in its support for ALL minority communities. There cannot be support from the EU for countries that discriminate against or do not deliver on the rights of minority communities. Access to information is an issue that is important with the digital divide becoming more and more apparent. The main barriers to access are knowledge, broadband coverage and devices. Integration is important for Ireland and the EU. Allowing all to access services and supports is vital, especially for those who are marginalised. The areas of Resilience in Cities and Renewable Energy are both very practical examples of policies that can be implemented to reach climate targets, improve living standards and well being, and inform the broader discussion. 3. Balance Rights There must be a balance between economic, social and environmental rights, all three must be in balance as they are interwoven. The emphasis across EU policy seems to be on “growth”, primarily economic, which needs to be questioned. Social progress should be valued alongside care for the natural environment. Our rights simply, should be justiciable. There must be policy coherence, moving away from thinking and acting in silos. The impact of policy must be evaluated to ensure that no policy will impoverish. There is a need for uniformity across the EU and ensuring that local and national departments are also up to date with policies. There can be a disconnect between local and international so the EU must demonstrate both the commitment and capability to deliver on goals and strategies that impact individuals daily lives. There should be accountability if set goals and targets are not met. Policies are rightly aspirational but there appears to be no real action if policy fails to deliver or has proved detrimental (example given of Housing Assistance Payment). Also examples of anti-poverty strategies that have been in place for decades and have not delivered. So what EU structures are in place to question these failed and failing policies? New innovative measures are needed instead of merely tweaking and amending policies or setting the same old targets that did not deliver in the past. 4. Ease of access to knowledge A difficulty for local groups is the volume of paperwork and documentation, there are so many strategies, guidelines, policies, charters, codes, etc, that it can be almost impossible to keep up to date with and understand everything that comes from European level at local level. There is a concern that key points may be missed, especially advantageous ones due to the sheer volume and language used. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are simple to use and understand and may be best placed to underpin and tie together policy at EU level. 5. Current and future challenges Migrancy is an ALL of EU issue and must be dealt with as such. Climate change will exacerbate this over the coming years and the EU must work as a unit to deliver clear, fair policies that recognise the scale of human suffering and act accordingly. Safe, coherent, humane asylum processes are vital if no more lives are to be lost. Climate action will be a huge challenge all across the EU and any climate action plan must allow for choices. A just transition will be vital. Carbon taxes and other measures will be unfair if no one has an other options, there must be choices available. Examples were given such as transport, heating and food. Changes to the way we live are necessary and must be made and again, policy choices made in relation to climate action must not impoverish. Just transition will also be vital for the large farming sector in Ireland. Ethical food production and security, nature based, climate friendly practices, sustainability, and clean water should be at the heart of agricultural policy, not profit. 6. Warnings If communities are left behind or go unheard, this lack of social integration can feed populism. To prevent a backlash against policy, communities must be involved. The principle of subsidiarity is important to connect the local to regional to national to international. The rise of the far-right and populism, whilst it is a lower level in Ireland compared to the rest of the EU, is a worry and cannot be allowed to take root. Many social rights have been fought for over the 100 years of the State and cannot be rolled back on.
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