On 18 October, the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD), Housing Europe, EuroHealthNet, FEANTSA, AGE Platform Europe and the Lifelong Learning Platform co-organised the European Conference on “Social Infrastructure Investment: from local innovative ideas to InvestEU funded projects”. The Conference provided an opportunity for the organisers – representing major stakeholders in the social, health, education and housing sectors – to engage with authorities and investors on the steps required to make InvestEU a success for Social Infrastructure Investment. Four steps emerged a focus on quality, sectoral involvement, capacity building for all & making full use of the available fiscal flexibity.
In 2015, the European Union launched the European Fund for Strategic Investments; a guarantee to help unlock public and private investment across Europe. As part of its ongoing discussions on the next EU budget, the European Commission has proposed the InvestEU programme, which builds on the plan to add a Window earmarked for Social Investment & a much larger capacity building budget.
For the last ten years, there has been significant underinvestment into health, education, social and housing. This has led to an outdated social infrastructure, increasingly inadequate to meet the evolving support needs of people across Europe. This consequently impacts the ability of Europe to create inclusive growth and opportunities for all and improve the quality of life of people in all our communities.
Opening the Conference, Mr Luk Zelderloo, Secretary General EASPD welcomed “the InvestEU programme as an important initiative marking the Commission’s growing understanding of the need to better connect all European initiatives with the needs of people across Europe. The evolving social needs means making social, health, education and housing services more inclusive, person-centred, preventative and community-based. The next step is to make progress on linking InvestEU to these local innovative infrastructure ideas”.
Alongside Mr Zelderloo, Ms Sorcha Edwards (Housing Europe), Ms Caroline Costongs (EuroHealthNet), Mr Maciej Kucharczyk (AGE Platform Europe), Ms Brikena Xhomaqi (Lifelong Learning Platform) and Mr Freek Spinnewijn (FEANTSA) proposed together four key steps that Public Authorities and Investors should take to ensure InvestEU is a success when implemented in the years to come:
- Ensure a formal involvement of the social sectors to identify local projects and build up effective instruments for social infrastructure investment;
- Building up the capacity of stakeholders (authorities, investors and service providers) at all levels to translate ideas for better services into viable and bankable projects for investors;
- A focus on quality and innovative projects will be crucial to show EU’s added value for people across Europe. This should be a priority of the Investment Guidelines.
- Making full use of the flexibility referred to in the Investment Clause of the EU fiscal rules.
Ms Florentine Hopmeier, Member of Cabinet of Vice President of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen, welcomed the Conference saying “let’s not wait until 2021, let’s start building up the capacity for InvestEU”, followed by an invitation to continue and strengthen collaboration to achieve this."
Mr Roger Havenith, Deputy Chief Executive of the European Investment Fund, welcomed “the multiplier effect of European networks in linking European instruments to local stakeholders” and presented the EIF’s panoply of instruments (EaSI Guarantee, COSME, etc) whilst acknowledging room for improvement to better respond to the local social investment needs.
Mr Konstantinos Agorastos, Member of the Committee of the Regions and their rapporteur for InvestEU, welcomed the proposal, calling the “Social Window an opportunity for a win-win situation for both citizens and investors”, as long as “we cooperate closely in order to achieve the best outcome”.
Ms Lieve Fransen, co-author of the Report of the High-Level Taskforce on Investing in Social Infrastructure in Europe, argued that “European networks each represent thousands of services on the ground. We need to take full advantage of their capacity to create a pipeline of projects and test new ideas”.
Ms Felicitas Riedl, Head of Life Sciences at the European Investment Bank, introduced their significant investment in the social fields, arguing for more investment in replacing an ageing and outdated social infrastructure, which would lead to public expenditure being better spent.
Concluding the day, Ms Manuel Geleng, Director for Social Affairs at DG Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility stated that the “European Pillar of Social Rights is there to guide us to do more and better in employment and the social domain. I look forward to work closely with European networks to make sure that what we do is targeted to the needs of people”.
The Co-organisers will continue this positive momentum to engage with authorities, policy-makers and investors to ensure the 4 proposed steps are taken up. The strong involvement of the social, health, education & housing sectors is crucial to the success of the proposed InvestEU programme.