The European Parliament passed a resolution on Wednesday, 15 March, urging member states to ensure that national minimum income schemes are set above poverty thresholds.

The Parliament called on governments to ensure the adequacy of their minimum income schemes and implement the recommendation presented by the European Commission last September, which was adopted by member states in January. The recommendation calls on EU countries to have adequate minimum income schemes focused on labour market reintegration by 2030, to adjust benefits depending on the economic situation, and to facilitate access for those in need.

According to the Commission, over one in five people across the EU are at risk of poverty, but only between 30% and 50% of those eligible use minimum income benefits. In line with the recommendation, the Parliament’s resolution called on member states to facilitate eligibility and uptake of benefits. It stressed the need to ensure that the level of support is above the national poverty line, taking into consideration the cost of living crisis. Most minimum income schemes across the EU remain below the national poverty thresholds.

The resolution also urged the Commission to consider an EU directive on minimum income, which could contribute to cutting poverty in half in all member states by 2030. The call for a directive on minimum income is supported by civil society organisations, but it remains controversial within the European Parliament. During a plenary debate on Tuesday, MEPs from the Greens, Left, and S&D groups said a recommendation alone would fall short of the EU’s goal to lift 15 million people out of poverty by 2030, stressing the need for a directive.

However, several centrist and right-wing members of the Parliament opposed the call for a directive, pointing to the need to respect the competences of member states on the matter. MEP Krzysztof Hetman (EPP) said that he does not support a European directive and that minimum income should be “tailor-made according to national circumstances”. The Commissioner for jobs and social rights, Nicolas Schmit, told the lawmakers that his first idea “was along theses lines” of having a directive, but added that the EU only has limited competences on social policy of member states, which makes it hard to achieve a European directive.

“This recommendation at least sets up a permanent call and a process which obliges member states to address their responsibility […] to fight effectively and individually against poverty,” Schmit said. The resolution also emphasised the importance of making sure the level of support is above the national poverty line, taking into consideration the cost of living crisis. The rapporteur, Sara Matthieu of the Greens, said in a statement, “Today, a minimum income doesn’t lift people out of poverty,” and added that it was “crucial that everyone has a minimum income that allows them to live a decent life.”