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Third National Conference on Poverty Reduction in Serbia Belgrade, 29th November, 2007 Fintan Farrell , Director of the European Anti Poverty Network Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. It is my first time in Serbia. So it makes me very nervous to think what could I say that might connect to your experience. So in that way I am more interested in the discussion workshops later today when there will be chance for more interaction and maybe than I can find the right thing to say. Just a little bit to say about myself. I come from Ireland. A lot of my work in Ireland was with Irish travellers. Irish travellers are a nomadic ethnic group with lots of characteristics similar to Roma and some of the things that you are speaking about. When I started to work with Irish travellers I could have told you the names of the Travellers who were transferred to secondary school. I was pleased that this year one of the young people that I have worked with, he is probably one of the first Travellers in Ireland to quality for university level through the main system. There have been some useful systems in Ireland to allow you to get past the official qualifications and some Travellers have qualified at university through that system. But this year he is maybe one of the first who have entered through the system that the general public uses. Just one of the key things I felt that made this transition was that a small investment in programmes for parents of Travellers was one of the big things that made the big difference. It is not all about investment in the schools though that is very important. But without investment in the people themselves and in the parents of the Traveller children I think you will not make the progress. So that is just a little bit my introduction. For the last five to six years I have been living in Bruxelles and I have been working as Director of the European Anti Poverty Network and I want to tell you a little bit about the work of the Network. I was involved in setting up the Network so I was a kind a voluntary worker for the network for about 13 years and have been paid to work for the network in the last six years. Just to say also that at the moment I am Chairperson of an umbrella body of social NGOs at the European level. This body is called the Social platform and it brings together more than 40 umbrella organisations at European level. So just to give an indication like: European Disability Forum, the European Women’s Lobby, International Lesbian and Gay Association, European Network Against Racism and my own organization the European Anti Poverty Network - just to give a flavour of the types of organisations that come together. The European Anti Poverty Network was established in 1990 and in the previous decade there had been a lot of European funded projects to work on the fight against poverty and many of the people who were involved in these projects wanted a more permanent network to work at the European level, because anybody working in NGO know that project end and the fight against the poverty needs to continue. So there was a desire to have more permanent network at European level. We have two types of members in the European Anti Poverty Network, we have national networks and European organizations. European organization could be an organisation like BIANZA, European organization working on homeless issues or it could be an organisation like European Network of One Parent Families, which is quite a small organization struggling to exist because to keep an organization alive at European level is quite costly both in terms of personal commitment but also in terms of finances. And we have more than 20 of these types of European organizations who are members of the European Anti Poverty Network. But than our other member is a national network. So we just take one member per member state of the European Union. I will say a little bit more in a second about outside of the European Union. But primarily I would have to say that our work is to try and highlight the realities of poverty and social exclusion within European Union countries. Often when you speak about poverty people think outside, but our job is to highlight the realities within European Union countries. And the poverty in the European Union countries is measured as 60% of the medium equalized income in the country. So it is not the same figure for every country. So in Romania that is an income of about EUR 600 a year but in Luxemburg it is an income of near EUR 18000 a year. So you see there is a huge difference. And there are 78 million people in the European Union who live with that reality. And believe me it is not a luxury poverty. If you are below that poverty line it is a real struggle to exist and to provide for yourself, for your family and to engage in the community. The question of employment is of course one of the key ways in terms of trying to tackle poverty but just in response to the focus that is put on jobs it is also important to know that now 8% of the people who are in jobs in the European Union countries are earning a wage which does not lift them above the poverty line. And so this discussion about jobs needs to be very carefully understood. Because I do not think it is a solution to the problem just to force people into any type of job, regardless of the circumstances and this is becoming increasingly a pattern in European Union countries. Like as if the poor people themselves have not some intelligence to the able to work out what is an opportunity and what is not an opportunity and they start telling them what they have to do. And it is leading to ridiculous situations where alone parents are really not able to cope with being forced into their jobs, even though we would like them to have good quality jobs, and they are not able to manage their other responsibilities against some of the things that they have been forced into. So the way that we look at jobs is incredibly important and it is incredibly important that we look at the quality of jobs and that we respect the intelligence of people that when offered opportunities they will take these opportunities. And I have worked with people in very marginalized situations and I have never had to force anybody to do anything. When you produce opportunities they recognise it and they are willing to take those opportunities. We have networks in 24 countries. So of the 27 EU member states we still do not have a network in Slovenia, in Estonia, in Latvia and we are very close to having a network in Romania. Theoretically we would like to be a real European network and not just a European Union network but to date we have not been able to find the sort of support and to be able to give the ongoing support that is needed when you make this connection to be a real European network but we are trying to look at that. We do have a membership from Norway but they get a lot of Government support to be involved in our Network. I should say also that we are funded primarily by the European Union for our work at European level but our national networks have to raise their own funding and they have to look after their own realities. And so there is huge divergence between these national networks. Most of the networks are operating completely voluntary, maybe with workers in organizations been given some time to work for the network, but on the other hand we will have the exception in Portugal where our Portuguese network would have about 46 workers in 10 regional offices. And there would be a few networks that have one or two workers who help to coordinate. When I explain what we do: sometimes national networks can be made of hundreds of organizations. And so it is those organizations who do millions of practical things - whether that be emergency aid to homeless people, shelters, whether that may be education and training, whether that may be social housing – there is a whole range of things our members do that sound much more practical than what we do as an organization. What we do as an organization is that we try to look at the social policies and try to create the right social policies to try and eradicate poverty and to try and ensure that there is a decisive impact being made on eradication of poverty. The establishment of the network in any country depends a lot on the NGO culture in that country. So it normally takes something between 3 to 4 years to try to establish a network or to work to understand what NGOs exist in the country. And the one thing I am sure of is that it is not good to rush such a process and that it is not good to try and interfere to much from the outside with such a process, that you have to give a lot of information and then see what leadership emerges in the country to take on this role. I would say in the first instance a lot of people get interested to be involved in the Network because the first think people think about when they think about the EU is funding and money and very often then you discover that to manage EU projects would kill most NGOs. The delays with payments, the size of the budgets – these sorts of questions just make it impossible for a small NGO, grass root NGO to really work. And what you find when you enter the network is that in reality what you are getting is a lot more work. A lot more work to try and share your experience of what it is like to fight poverty in your country, to listen to others, to try and find the common messages and then to try and influence policies. And so that is not such an attractive offer but at the same time I have been involved with it a long time and I find that finding out from other countries what is happening in other countries – it is not that you can just transfer a model from one country to another, it can often just be a good way to help you to think through how to make the next steps in your own work. I will just say one more thing and than I am going to stop because I could speak for ages and there was a danger there was no clock in this room. But I do want to say a little bit about the European inclusion strategy. Even within the European Union countries we often say that it is one of the best kept secrets of the European Union that they actually have a strategy to fight against poverty and social exclusion and we often complain that this strategy is too much hidden in the Social Affairs Ministries and the responsibility to fight poverty can not be handled just by Social affairs ministries, it has to be handled across all of the ministries. I am in no place to comment on the Poverty Reduction Strategy here but I find this impressive that there is this effort to engage all of the different types of actors that need to be involved in really reducing poverty. At European level you do have some legislation and laws that have to be passed at country level or have to be complied with at country level. Certainly we often see huge link between the discrimination and poverty. or some of the discrimination legislation at European level it has been very important that it gets implemented at country level. But in fact in the work with poverty and social exclusion the competency is still very much at the member state level, or at the local or regional level within member states. How they work in the fight against poverty at European level is through something that they call the “open method of coordination”. The “open method of coordination” just has a few steps in it. It means that together the member states set some common objectives. They had set the objective to try to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty by 2010. They said this in Lisbon and in Nice in 2000 and 2001. I find this not a very precise target and so I am interested by the target that you have set: half poverty. We have been trying to find within the EU target which is more measurable because it also has to bring political pressure that is needed and to give visibility to such a strategy. But to date the EU and the member states have rejected to have such a target. Once they have set these common objectives each country needs to produce national plans to try and implement these objectives. The Deputy Prime Minister mentioned the national action plans on poverty, which is part of this requirement to be involved in this process at European level and it is part of the responsibility to be a member of the European Union. Once countries have submitted their national action plans on poverty than you have what we call peer learning and peer exchange. So you have at different levels - in conferences, in small peer reviews for very specific issues, in meetings between ministries and in lots of other levels ways to exchange experience on how people have managed to implement or not these national action plans. And this is a very important part of the strategy. There is the commitment to the involvement of all the relevant actors and it is partly through that that we in EAPN end up getting involved. And when I say that EAPN were an independent coalition of NGOs, the language of NGO is very unclear and it is understood quite differently in different countries. But what we are particularly interested in is that people who experience poverty, exclusion and inequality, that they have the support to be self organized to engage in policy making systems. And that is what we try to do and that is what the European Union encourages us to fund. And I think it takes quite a mature democracy to do such a thing because it is inevitable that if you support such a funding that you will also be critical of many of the policies because it is inevitable, you would not be speaking on behalf of the people experiencing poverty if you haven’t got a critical advise, because something has to change to change that reality. And so the question of how to fund NGOs while keeping their independence is a huge question that has to be looked at, and there is no easy solution to it. Some say to us: ”well I tell you be critical of the Commission if they have funded you” and today I have to find this to be a problem. But who knows in the future. Will they always stay so mature - that is a question. But also the other alternatives are not so easy to find either. So this question of how to really fund the self organization of people experiencing poverty and exclusion and inequality is really big. The last part of the open method of coordination is monitoring and so you have a very important report produced every year called the Joint report on social protection and social inclusion which monitors what is happening through all of this process and gives very important information about what is happening in each country and also about the trends in poverty and social exclusion at the European level. And so part of our job at the European Netork is to try and follow this strategy. Of course I could go on because linked to this strategy then is the whole question of how structural funds are spent, the whole question how the employment is spent and increasingly we in EAPN say that it is impossible to speak about poverty and remain silent about wealth. Because one of the things we see at the European Union level, the statistics are very clear that the gaps between rich and poor are rising. And if we want to really address poverty than we also have to look at wealth, not to demonise wealth but to look at the rich possibilities of wealth to help societies free of poverty. But then we also have to look at mechanisms that create wealth, what happens with hedge funds, what happens in the different sorts of investment mechanisms. And I think more of our efforts now will be concentrated to look at some of these systems, to at least try to understand them. Because in the past you knew who the business owner was, you knew who the shopkeeper was, but now there is a very complex system in a globalized world around how wealth is created. And I think we need assistance to understand this much more and to try and see are the rules of that game fair. And so this whole question of wealth becomes the topic for EAPN. As I said I could talk for ages but I would stop now and I am looking forward to the workshops and the discussions there. I brought along a little bit of the materials produced and I will leave them outside so that people can take a look at least to see the information. I am looking forward for today may be a start of an ongoing relationship and we’ll see how to keep it going. Thank you.
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