In the context of the Spring Package, the Commission issued the country-specific recommendations for the Member States on 22nd May. Austria has – in spite of a positive economic forecast and a relatively stable labour market compared to other EU countries – room for improvement regarding the labour market participation of women, educational opportunities for people from a socially deprived and/or with migration background.
The country-specific recommendations issued with the Spring Package sets out to provide Member States with guidance on economic policy and reform efforts, which they should implement within the next 12 to 18 months. They are embedded in the European Semester and follow the Winter Package, which was published together with an assessment of the Member State's reform progress by the Commission in February.
As in February the Commission pointed out at the presentation on Monday that Member States should use the current economic recovery to push forward structural reforms, investments and budget consolidation. What is new, however, is the emphasis that the Commission puts on addressing existing inequalities within the Member States. Social priorities and challenges should be given enhanced focus in the European Semester by integrating the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Social Scoreboard. “Productivity increases should be reflected in higher wages”, emphasised Commissioner Thyssen. Member States should also invest in high quality education and training to address the changing skills needs, arising from advancing digitisation.
With regard to Austria, the Commission recommends among other to achieve to the mid-term budgetary objective in 2018 and to ensure the sustainability of the healthcare and pension systems. Departing from previous comments, this year the Commission does not directly recommend the introduction of automation in the pension sector but only in its detailed reasoning – a demand, which the AK rejects: in view of the demographic developments, the low forecast of pension costs by only 0.5% of GDP until 2060 is clear proof that any automatic adjustment of the pension age to life expectancy would overshoot the mark by far. Apart from that, expectations in other European countries such as Sweden, show that automation is associated with numerous problems. The Commission regards pensions only as costs and not with respect to their comprehensive economic significance as income. However, it is the design of the current pension systems that significantly contributes to guaranteeing comprehensive protection in old age.
Apart from that, the Commission points to room for improvement with regard to the labour market participation of women. Admittedly, compared to other EU countries the Austrian labour market was in good condition; nevertheless, women continue to benefit the least. They work more often in part-time jobs and receive lower wages. According to the Commission, Austria should create more childcare places for children under three years of age. With childcare quota of 25.5%, Austria clearly misses the Barcelona target of 33%. An AK Study shows among other that investments in childcare may lead to an improved reconciliation between work and family life and make it possible for women to enter full-time employment. Creating more childcare places may therefore also lead to reducing both Gender Pay Gap and Gender Pension Gap.
Finally, the Commission also recommends that Austria reduces the high dependence of educational achievements on a socio-economic background. Although Austria had already met the Europe 2020 targets with respect to education, the origin of pupils is still an above average decisive factor for educational success. Since PISA 2000 the wide gap remains unchanged: with regard to sciences, children with academic parents achieve about 100 points more than children, whose parents have at best graduated from a compulsory school. This is equivalent to a performance difference of more than two school years. Year after year, PISA also reconfirms with regard to Austria: compared to the native population, in particular pupils with migration are massively disadvantaged, more than in almost any other country taking part in the study. This is a finding, which the AK has long viewed with great concern, demanding urgently needed reforms, above all with regard to dual education.
Apart from that, the European Commission points out the special role of the educational systems regarding the integration of refugees. Hence, another challenge, the Austrian school system has to cope with: teach values, which prepare for the participation in state and society.
Falter Beilage zu Pensionen (DE)