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Opening Address by the Minister Ms Marjeta Cotman at 7th European Meeting of People Experiencing Poverty

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Distinguished participants of the 7th meeting,
Distinguished guests!

Let me wish you a heartfelt welcome on behalf of the Slovenian Presidency.First I would like to thank all our co-organisers of the 7th Meeting of People Experiencing Poverty, particularly to the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN), their Director, Mr Fintan Farrell, and his team.I would also like to express my thanks to the European Commission for its financial support and to the Government of Belgium that provided the venue and enabled us to discuss the poverty – an issue of great concern for all of us. 

I must admit that I would be much happier if we did not have to discuss poverty.During the last decades, Europe developed several successful systems of welfare states.However, unfortunately we have to establish that in 21st century poverty still exists and is even increasing.

Here I will not quote statistical data, which anyway do not mean much for any of you or your family members.In my opinion, our biggest interest lies in creating conditions which would assure everyone the possibility for a dignified and quality life.Here we have to take account of common European values, such as solidarity and cohesion, equal opportunities, fight against every form of discrimination, health and safety at work, access to education and health care, quality of employment, inclusion of civil society and sustainable growth.

The main value is work.Not the work bringing earnings, but the work which contributes to human dignity and assures security.Therefore, labour market integration of all people capable for work is a crucial objective on the European level.On the other hand, we have to guarantee adequate social protection and security for people unable to work.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Poverty and social exclusion are rather complex and multifaceted problems concerning both the society and the individuals experiencing it.Hence we must deal with them together.The experience gained in previous meetings of the kind indicates that cooperation between representatives of national governments and the European Commission, European non-governmental organisations, social partners and other important players in fighting poverty is crucial in exchange of experience with people experiencing poverty.Such cooperation is important for improving policies and practices affecting everyday life of people experiencing poverty.

Recent discussions on the renewed Social Agenda confirm that social objectives must be incorporated and observed in all EU policies.We must also ensure that these objectives will enjoy the support of people.

We all wish to have opportunities for the best lifelong personal development;we all need the access to education, quality health care, social care and other services of general interest.And after all, we need solidarity: we need it when we are not able to take care of ourselves, while the society as a whole constantly needs it in order to exist and develop.

The 6th meeting co-organised by the German Presidency last year already established that such meetings provide a new opportunity for specific insight into the implementation of different processes and policies at the EU level.It is not politicians and academics that are in the centre of interest but people who know their problems best.Each word and each opinion is important on the way to ensuring the greatest possible extent of social inclusion.Therefore each person must strive to express this opinion and contribute to the social Europe not allowing for social exclusion! 


Ladies and gentlemen!

This year's meeting is entitled Four Pillars in the Fight against Poverty.These are:social services, services of general interest, housing policy and the minimum wage.

Why the above pillars?Because the last year's meeting highlighted them as particularly burning issues.Therefore these areas need our common contribution and consideration.Moreover, they can be included in the current discussion on the internal market and liberalisation of services and in the discussion about determining a minimum income standard for the EU.

The efforts at the EU level aim at preserving the role of services of general interest in the society and their importance for people.In addition, we wish to stimulate the quality and accessibility of services.This will undoubtedly improve the quality of living of the European Union citizens.

This is one of the main objectives supported by the Slovenian Presidency.A special emphasis is placed on social services.We support the proposal of the European Commission for the establishment of the harmonious European framework of social services.Furthermore, we advocate the agreement on the general principles of quality of social services of general interest at the EU level. 

We will be interested to hear your opinions regarding the questions related to housing policy and minimum income.

We need your help to find appropriate solutions.I am convinced that, in the next two days, you will be active and successful, able to listen and to be heard and understood.That we shall search together for solutions to your everyday problems and that we shall find some solutions.

I hope your discussions will be productive. Thank you for your attention.

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Date: 16.05.2008