Portuguese minister joins new call for ‘minimum European income”

Portugal’s labour minister Ana Mendes Godinho has signed her name to a new call by fellow ministers in Spain and Italy for a ‘minimum European income’ to help minimise the crisis caused by Covid-19.

Published in Público today, the three ministers stress: “We have to ensure that all people are guaranteed the satisfaction of their basic needs”.

Thus, a ‘common minimum income system’ is required “to combat poverty”.

Signing the text with Pablo Iglesias – Vice-President of the Spanish Government and Minister of Social Rights and Agenda 2030 – and Nunzia Catolfo – Italy’s minister for Labour and Social Policy – Ms Mendes Godinho claims the system doesn’t have to be based on average European income, but on what each Member State establishes as “a minimum income that is adequate and adapted to each country’s standard of living and way of life”.

Says the text: “We support the approach that has been taken to this crisis, which is based on the fact that nobody is left behind and that it pays particular attention to the most vulnerable groups. We, therefore, support the establishment of an initiative to support the generalisation of decent and adequate minimum income systems in all Member States”.

The three ministers describe Europe as currently facing the “greatest challenge since World War II”, with social and economic impacts already being felt at national and European levels, “with particular focus on the labour market” and “profound impacts on citizens’ lives”.

“Europe today has more than 113 million people at risk of poverty and social exclusion and 25 million children living below the poverty line. We must take urgent measures to avoid increasing this number and instead contribute to reducing it.”

Explain reports, for a political and legislative framework, the article highlights the European Pillar of Social Rights, adopted in 2017 by the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission during the Social Summit in Gothenburg.

Principle 14 of that document states that anyone who does not have sufficient resources is entitled to adequate minimum income benefits that guarantee a decent standard of living at all stages of life, as well as effective access to supporting goods and services.

Indeed, Portugal has been a pioneer at this level, says the text, having launched Social Insertion Income, or RSI, in 1996.

It’s now imperative, say the ministers, that Europe should unite in solidarity for those hardest hit so as to avoid a social and economic crisis on the scale of that suffered in 2008 when so many economies went to the wall.

But while the call here in Portugal is being presented in a relatively muted fashion, in the UK, the Financial Times interprets it as “Spain’s deputy PM calls for EU to step up or risk extinction”.

Says the paper, Pablo Iglesias warns the bloc will not survive if it doesn’t show solidarity with countries worst hit by coronavirus.

This leads us right back to the ongoing tussle between what is loosely called ‘the Club Med countries’ of the south and the more frugal states of the north (click here).

As the FT accepts, “any suggestion of transfers between EU countries could further agitate the European debate” which is already at an exceedingly delicate and still undefined point.

But as the text in Público maintains, the “key thing about the minimum income guarantee now, in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, is its urgency”, says Mr Iglesias. “Families have suffered an atrocious collapse in their income”. In Spain’s case the lockdown is still in place and unlikely to ease before the second week in June.

The Times has followed up on the theme, running a story today suggesting a German survey has found that 70% of Europeans agree with the idea of the State paying a basic income.

In the past, the notion of Universal Basic Income, or UBI, was considered too radical.

Says the paper: “The idea of paying all citizens a minimum tax-free monthly income used to be regarded as a fringe proposal until the coronavirus lockdown introduced schemes in which governments across Europe stepped in to pay people wages, rather than unemployment benefits…”

Finland actually ran a full-scale pilot of a UBI scheme in 2017. It gave 2,000 randomly selected unemployed people a monthly tax-free €560 stipend with no requirement to be working.

Preliminary results showed it boosted wellbeing but failed to improve employment prospects, says The Times, concluding “the Finnish government chose not to extend the trial in 2018”.

The question now is will the current pandemic see countries warming to the idea of UBI, and Europe agreeing to start stumping up?