Homelessness is probably the most severe manifestation of social exclusion in Europe. There were at least 700 000 people who slept rough or in shelter accommodation on any given night in 2019, which represents an increase of 70% in 10 years. An opinion adopted by the European Committee of the Regions' SEDEC Commission points out that the multiple causes and facets of this urgent societal problem need to be addressed at all levels of government. At the meeting held on 1 October, SEDEC members also adopted an opinion on the European Commission's Artificial Intelligence (AI) package, which seeks to regulate the deployment of AI and prohibit certain AI practices while largely ignoring the contribution of local and regional authorities.
The first opinion was presented by Mikko Aaltonen (FI/PES), Vice-Chair of Tampere City Council who represents the CoR in the Steering Board of the European Platform on Combating Homelessness, launched by the European Commission and the Portuguese EU Presidency in June 2021. Mr Aaltonen's opinion encourages EU Member States to be actively involved in the Platform, to develop national homelessness strategies with a strong housing-led approach as the basis and to fully acknowledge the role of local and regional authorities in the endeavour to end homelessness by 2030.
The rapporteur points out that homelessness does not only concern people sleeping rough or in shelters, but also those forced to resort to casual accommodation provided by family or friends. With this in mind, he regrets the lack of a European definition on homelessness and of up-to-date statistics, while reiterating the CoR's concern over the absence of quantitative targets in this field.
"Homelessness, which is a multidimensional problem affecting all EU Member States, can be effectively addressed only if the right policy mix of targeted prevention measures and housing-led solutions, such as the Housing First approach, is applied. Finland has been at the forefront in the fight against homelessness, becoming the first country in the EU where the number of homeless people has fallen sharply. Local and regional authorities everywhere in Europe are key players in the successful delivery of such policies and should be fully empowered to implement them, including through access to adequate funds. At the same time, it is regrettable that there is no official EU data on homelessness nor a quantitative target to reduce it at European level. This is essential for making the fight against homelessness a social policy priority at European level", Mr Aaltonen said.
The opinion suggests to exploit unprecedented EU funding and financing opportunities to tackle homelessness, especially those related to European Social Fund Plus, European Regional Development Fund and the Resilience and Recovery Facility. The European Commission should ensure a strong focus on homelessness across EU policies, including in the EU Semester process, where Country-Specific Recommendations on homelessness could be issued for Member States where homelessness has become a social emergency. The opinion also points out that local investments in affordable housing are a key tool to prevent homelessness, bearing in mind the consequences of gentrification, short-term letting for tourists and financialisation especially in growing cities and metropolitan areas.
Members of SEDEC – the CoR's Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture – also examined the European Commission's proposal for Regulation in the field of Artificial Intelligence. The opinion drafted by Guido Rink (NL/PES), Member of the Executive Council of Emmen, regrets the absence of reference to local and regional authorities in the draft regulation, despite their key role in creating a favourable environment to AI investment and in exploiting the potential of AI systems to provide better services to the citizens. At the same time, the rapporteur calls for strong safeguards against the circumvention of the ban on social scoring and invites the Commission to consider in greater depth the high-risk classification of AI systems used by public authorities.
"For the EU to become a global leader in the responsible and human-centred development of AI, the key role of local and regional authorities in fostering trust in AI and in creating an environment conducive to AI investment should be fully acknowledged. It is regrettable that the proposal for a regulation does not refer to local and regional authorities, despite the fact that the legal framework will apply to both public and private players. It is my firm belief that local and regional authorities should be able to participate fully in the monitoring of AI systems, report on AI implementation on the ground and contribute formally to the European Commission's evaluation of the application of the regulation", the rapporteur said.
Both Mr Aaltonen's and Mr Rink's opinions will be discussed and adopted at the CoR plenary session on 1-2 December.
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