The Open Method of Coordination for social protection and social inclusion (Social OMC) was launched at the Lisbon summit in March 2000. It supplements the instruments for coordinating economic policy and the European Employment Strategy for the area of joint orientation in social policy where the EU otherwise has only limited or no competence at all. The OMC offers a foundation for a voluntary policy coordination process for the three strands 'social protection and social inclusion', 'pensions' and 'healthcare and long-term care' and for greater cooperation between Member States on the basis of common decisions at EU level. Within the OMC framework, Member States agree on a voluntary basis on common social objectives in the above-mentioned areas, measure on the basis of indicators whether and how the targets were reached and take on corresponding reporting obligations. The reports are evaluated in Commission working papers that are coordinated with the Member States in the Social Protection Comittee. In addition, information about past experience and 'best practices' in the social protection field is shared with a view to learning from one another in this way.
All in all, the OMC is to monitor progress made in the social field and assess the respective strategies. Consequently, as a result of the Social OMC, social protection policy has become an important element of the European agenda.
Due to the re-alignment of the Lisbon Strategy through the EU 2020 strategy, the OMC was able to align itself even more to the social dimension in Europe and establish greater balance between the economic, employment and social policy aspects. In addition, the Social OMC's visibility and specificity were boosted in its three strands so that the OMC can be a driving force for effective policy coordination and social policy initiatives at European level (in keeping with the Opinion of the Social Protection Committee following its endorsement by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in June 2011). In addition, cooperation between other committees and bodies was improved and stakeholders' involvement enhanced. The reporting system was streamlined and its strategy focus strengthened. The National Social Report (NSR) that each Member State is required to submit is an example for this. The NSR outlines the individual Member State's strategies and progress made with regard to the OMC's common objectives, the reform priorities it has formulated in connection with the Europe 2020 strategy and the efforts it has undertaken to mitigate the social consequences of the economic crisis.
As a result, the Social OMC will be able to demonstrate even more clearly that sustainable growth, improved quality of employment and social cohesion go hand in hand: Social protection and social inclusion are thus elements of sustainable growth and employment strategies in a social market economy.
Poverty reduction target: As part of its conclusions regarding the EU 2020 strategy, the European Council (EC) set targets on 17 June 2010 for social inclusion and the fight against poverty: At least 20 million persons are to be lifted out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion by the year 2020. This target is defined in terms of three indicators: (1) the 'at risk of poverty rate', (2) material deprivation and (3) the share of persons living in a jobless household. With the adoption of the conclusions, Member States were called upon to set, in a dialogue with the European Commission, national targets which support the achievement of the overall objectives at EU level. The German government set itself the following national target: It aims to reduce the number of long-term unemployed persons (persons who have been unemployed for more than a year) by 20 per cent by the year 2020 (measured in terms of the year 2008). This target must be seen in relation to Indicator 3 (jobless households).
In its efforts to combat poverty and social exclusion, the German government will not concentrate solely on lowering the long-term unemployment rate. It will also direct special attention to activities to advance and support children and youths from disadvantaged families. The German government will also address the prevention of poverty in old age. It will additionally strive to improve the prospects of social integration for persons with an immigrant background.
The European Commission issued a Commuinication on the flagship initiative European Platform against poverty and social exclusion on 16 December 2010. This platform is one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy. Together with the poverty reduction target, the platform makes clear that combatting poverty and social exclusion will play a prominent role in the Europe 2020 strategy.
The platform's aim is to ensure economic, social and territorial cohesion in the European Union and boost awareness of poverty and social exclusion in order to enable people experiencing poverty to actively participate in society. The platform promotes and increases the exchange of good practices between Member States, EU institutions and the most important stakeholder groups. At the same time, it is an instrument for promoting the involvement of both public and private bodies in the fight against social exclusion.
Social services of general interest play a vital role in European society and the European economy. Being automatic stabilisers, they are a key element in modern economic and social systems. In the European Union, the term 'social services of general interest' is broadly defined on purpose. It covers not only health services but also social security benefits and other important personal services. The Member States may however define for themselves what they consider social services of general interest to be.
In light of the latest global financial and economic crisis and due to current demographic and sociological changes, social services are also important for the Europe 2020 strategy and are increasingly the subject of regulation at EU level. The European Parliament has also addressed this issue and recently released a report on the future of social services of general interest. However, the European Union has little or no authority to regulate in the area of social services. The fundamental decision-making powers for this lie with the Member States and local authorities as a rule. On the whole, from the point of view of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, steps must be taken to ensure that the Union's social targets are not undermined by Internal Market legislation.
Agreements that are concluded on the basis of reciprocity and the equal treatment of the nationals of both countries serve this purpose. Such agreements make sure that social protection is also ensured during stays or periods of residence in the other contracting state. A number of agreements that had been concluded in the past have since been superseded by the provisions of Regulation (EC) 883/2004 because the respective state has entered the European Union.