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Homes, training and jobs: what’s the reality of Social Europe?

In partnership with The European Commission
Homes, training and jobs: what’s the reality of Social Europe?
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Fanny Gauret
Published on Updated
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What is Social Europe? How can social rights enhance the well-being of EU citizens while addressing economic growth challenges ? In this episode of Real Economy we travel from Romania to France to meet people whose lives have taken a new turn, thanks to solidarity projects.

In Berceni, north of Bucharest, Valentin and Gabriela Alexe and their two daughters have been living happily in their house for a year. Due to Valentin's low income, they previously lived with their parents, where cohabitation was very difficult.

"When they kicked us out, until I found an apartment to rent I slept in the car for three days; me, my wife and my daughter," Valentin says.

"Then, when I was renting, I didn’t have much money left because it was very expensive. I had enough, let's say, for food, but not for the rest, like clothes, no way."

Even now we can't believe that it is ours, it has changed our lives for the better,
Gabriela Alexe
Benificiary of housing scheme

Gabriela says life was becoming increasingly hard: "The situation there was starting to get very bad, the mould had started to grow on the walls, and my child went to the hospital. I also stayed at the hospital because the house was too dirty."

Gabriela and Valentin Alexe, Habitat for Humanity beneficiaries
Gabriela and Valentin Alexe, Habitat for Humanity beneficiarieseuronews

Thanks to the NGO Habitat for Humanity, which helps low-income families by building shared houses with the help of volunteers, Gabriela and Valentin will be able to become homeowners, in exchange for volunteer time and an affordable rent for 20 years. A once unattainable dream.

"Even now we can't believe that it is ours, it has changed our lives for the better," Gabriela says.

A helping hand

Valentin says he feels deeply grateful: "I want to share and help the others who are moving here, and even when I am done with my volunteering hours with Habitat, I will say: 'I will help you, let's do it!"

The project is supported by the city of Berceni, which provided the land and utility connections, thanks to private and European funds. Today, three buildings have been constructed, housing twelve families. Cosmina Pandele, the mayor of Bercini says the project aims to build a normal community life for people:

"It is a chance that belongs not only to those who now live in these dwellings, but to all those who will be born into these families. What we are trying to do is to provide these people with access to a normality that will allow them to grow, develop and become adults that we can rely on," she says.

Twenty million children are at risk of poverty in the European Union; its goal is to reduce this number by a quarter by 2030. Meanwhile, the European Child Guarantee aims to ensure access to education, healthcare, healthy food and decent housing for all children. It is among a number of initiatives implemented to support social rights.

A socially fair Europe

So,what is the European Union's plan to achieve its social objectives? Nearly nine out of 10 Europeans say they want a strong social Europe with fair working conditions, inclusion and equal opportunities. (88% of Europeans - Eurobarometer survey, 2024). 

Priorities for a social Europe

The 20 principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights serve as a compass to achieve this. To get there the European Union set out an action plan, built on key targets to hit by 2030. They include at least 78% of people aged 20 to 64 in work, no less than 60% of adults in training every year and a reduction in poverty by at least 15 million people, including at least five million children.

New EU legislation to protect platform workers and ensure adequate minimum wages are two examples of concrete action.  As the rise of AI, the green and digital transitions and demographic changes redefine the world of work, policies to upskill and improve social cohesion are likely to play an increasingly vital role.

Investing in people

Skills are at the heart of the European Union's priorities, encouraging investments to facilitate adult education. Rodica Ionas, a 49-year-old English teacher at a school in Bucharest, wanted to learn something entirely new: computer technology.

"It was a chance for me, not only because I really wanted to learn this, but also because the course was funded by the Ministry of Education," she explains.

Rodica Iona's class benefit from her new ICT training
Rodica Iona's class benefit from her new ICT trainingeuronews

Rodica is undergoing a two-year training programme at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, in partnership with the World Bank. The goal is to combat school dropout rates and improve teachers' skills.

"We learned a lot about the methodological approach of teaching computing," Rodica says. "We made a game for our students, and they were very happy to play it."

For Rodica, improving her teaching methods is the greatest reward: "I'm better at teaching in general. My students will like the classes more because we learned a few ways of making the class more attractive. They should be motivated to come to school," she says. This type of partnership is encouraged by the EU through initiatives like the European Year of Skills, which supported nearly 200 programmes in 2023.

Zero unemployment goal

On the other side of Europe, France has tackled another major issue with the "Zero Long-Term Unemployment Territories" experiment. Launched in 2016, it aims to create jobs in rural areas, such as in Pipriac, where the company Tezea employs more than 60 people.

Marie-Fabienne Lavoisier, an employee of Tezea explains how she benefitted: "I’m about to turn 58 and I’ve been working at Tezea for almost three years. I mainly sort items and put them in the store, and occasionally I work in the warehouse to receive donated items when people bring things in.

"I had cancer eight years ago, and I lost my husband three years ago also to cancer. So, at 55 finding a job was far from guaranteed because it's an age where for many companies, we're no longer profitable," she adds.

Marie-Fabienne says the scheme did more than provide an occupation: "It allowed me to regain a social life. It also gave meaning to my life and my daily routine. We need to return to solidarity and human values because that's what allows us to overcome challenges.

Zero unemployment scheme offered new lease of life for Marie-Fabienne Lavoisier
Zero unemployment scheme offered new lease of life for Marie-Fabienne Lavoisiereuronews

Today, Tezea offers around thirty activities, such as recycling, grocery store work, and firewood cutting. Deployed across about sixty territories, this model is already inspiring four other European countries.

"It's an idea that has allowed us to experiment with what we call the transfer of the cost of unemployment," says Serge Marhic, the director of Tezea. "By financing part of the salary, we are able to create permanent jobs, generate wealth, and stimulate production.

"We went from 13% unemployment in the Pipriac area to less than 5%. If we want to ultimately combat long-term unemployment, this is one of the only models that has shown it can be done."

The "Zero Long-Term Unemployment Territories" project is supported by the European Social Fund Plus, a major source of funding to promote social rights in Europe, with a total budget of 142.7 billion euros. This fund allows each member state to implement initiatives, according to its specific socio-economic needs and agreed investment priorities with the EU.

For the future, adequate funding for these initiatives and a strong collective commitment towards these objectives will be essential to build a social Europe.

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