Historical archive

Social Inclusion – Towards a European Best Practice

Historical archive

Published under: Bondevik's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs

The Norwegian Minister of Social Affaires welcomed European guests today to the first conference hosted by the Ministry as part of Norway’s participation in the European Union Community Action Programme to Combat Social Exclusion (05.02.04).

Social Inclusion – Towards a European Best Practice

Opening welcome by the Minister of Social Affairs, Mrs. Ingjerd Schou, Norway

Oslo,Norway, 5. – 6. February 2004

Chair, Minister Undersecretary, Representatives of the European Union Commission, European Union Member States and Acceeding Countries, European Non-Governmental Organisations, European Researchers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to Norway and to this first conference being hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Social Affairs as part of Norway’s participation in the European Union Community Action Programme to Combat Social Exclusion. The participation in the Programme gives Norway an important opportunity to share knowledge, build new partnerships and coalitions in the social field to fight poverty and social exclusion.

Just to let you know, I have been asked several times in the last months – do you really think it is possible to bring people from the more warmer parts of Europe to a conference in Norway in the middle of a dark and cold Nordic winter. But I have been certain ever since we started to prepare this conference; it would be possible and by being here, you all have helped me to prove I was right. Our expectations are high in terms of making this conference into an experience that will not only have a meaning for you all here and now, but can prove to be worthwhile for addressing the challenging work that lays ahead of us in the months and years to come.

In many ways it seems like a paradox to talk about poverty and social exclusion in a wealthy country like Norway. Most people enjoy a good living standard, our social welfare system is by many foreigners regarded as being among the best in the world and our unemployment rate is low. Still, affecting only a small minority of the population, the causes of poverty are often complex and interlinked. A low income over a long period of time is often linked to other problems such as lack of qualifications or basic language skills, sometimes people will suffer from underlying causes like health and substance-abuse problems that cannot be solved only through general welfare schemes.

To carve out mesures to deal with such problems, my Government aims at adopting a knowledge-based policy in order to prevent people from being excluded or fall into poverty. We are therefore very proud of organising this conference in close cooperation with two Norwegian research groups; FAMI and GIV. These groups have been established through the Norwegian Research Council’s Welfare programme by governmental funds being allocated to strengthen research in this particular field over a period of 5 years from 2002 to 2008.

Norway shares the common objectives and concerns with the European Union Member States and the Acceding Countries as regards the need to strengthen social integration, the future of the social protection systems and the sustainability of pensions.

In this respect we see the new qualitative approach of the European Union recognising social welfare policy and social cohesion as a productive tool and not simply an item of expenditure as a very important signal. Development of sustainable economic systems and social welfare development must go hand by hand.

As I see it, the European Union countries, by defining common objectives and social indicators, and by means of the open method of co-ordination have already come a step further on its way on its overall objective “to create a more prosperous dynamic Europe at the service of its citizens”.

A fundamental part of reaching this aim is the social inclusion goals set in the National Action Plans for Inclusion. As stated in the Joint Report On Social Inclusion summarising the review of the National Actions Plans in 2003, success in terms of fulfilling the Lisbon aim will depend on the ability of Member States to translate the often well-defined strategic goals into concrete measures and actions that can improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable people.

The same applies to the Norwegian Action Plan for Combating Poverty. What we are up against in our work is not only to define what goals and objectives that we are going to pursue, but “where the rubber really hits the road” is to implement effective measures that can solve the residual and interlinked nature of poverty and different social problems that we confront in countries like Norway. Moreover, I feel that evaluations and monitoring of policies should focus closely on the process of implementation of policies, but more important: on the outcomes. Furthermore, it has to be combined with more knowledge about how well current services and benefits are tailored to meet the needs of poor people in general. This calls for more systematic and profound reviews of the functioning of our welfare system. That is why Norway is currently doing a complete over-haul of the Public Employment Services, Social Security Offices and Social Assistance Services.

I am also looking eagerly forward to co-operating with the acceding countries that already have participated in the social inclusion programme since last year. From a Norwegian perspective the forthcoming enlargement is highly welcomed. We feel that the anticipated admission of 10 new countries in 2004, followed later by additional entrants, is a strong sign of solidarity with less affluent neighbours. This will develop the nature of the EU project to a virtually all-European venture.

The contributions of Norway to the economic and social development of Europe will become even more visible in three months’ time, when we will have a new and enlarged European Union and European Economic Area. In order to retain our access to a market that will comprise an additional 75 million people on 1 May, when 10 new countries become members, we will have to contribute nearly 2 billion NOK a year, to the new financial arrangements in the European Economic Area. This is a tenfold increase in our contribution. In relation to its population, Norway will be one of the countries in Europe that provides most support to the new member states. I am very committed to follow up this in my field of responsibility to make sure that this money well spent.

However, poverty cannot be removed merely by increased knowledge or even increased funding in it self.

I strongly believe that the role of non-profit and non-governmental organisations as well as the role of the social partners cannot be overestimated. My Government has therefore taken on the role of mobilising and strengthening the NGO’s and other important actors operating in this field. Involving NGOs and the social partners in all aspects of fighting poverty is of utmost importance, because the Government alone, neither in Norway, nor in any other country can solve these problems. Therefore I am very glad that so many European NGO’s are present here today.

Therefore I have no less than great expectations for the two days to come. In particular I look forward to the mutual learning and networking that will be facilitated through the different plenary sessions, workshops and social events. As I see it, the conference will certainly provide both Norwegian authorities, researchers and NGOs with an excellent opportunity to build and develop networks European partners.

And then again, let me welcome you to this conference. I await the discussions and exchange of views that will take place. I really hope these two days will provide inspiration and momentum to the challenges that lays ahead of us in the months and years to come.

Thank you for your attention.

See conference program here