Report: 16% of EU Below Poverty Line

The European Commission's findings show underprivilege is most dire in Poland and Lithuania. Sweden and the Czech Republic look best

One in six Europeans lives below the national poverty line, while 10 percent of people live in households where there is nobody working, according to the European Commission's annual social inclusion report published on Monday (19 February).

Conducted in 2004, the study showed that 16 percent of EU citizens lived under the poverty threshold which is defined as 60 percent of their country's median income.

The poverty statistics ranged from 9-10 percent in Sweden and the Czech Republic to 21 percent in Poland and Lithuania while in all countries except the Nordic states, Greece and Cyprus, children are often at greater risk of poverty, said the study.

The report also found wide discrepancies in life expectancy between the bloc's member states and major differences in spending on healthcare with Estonia spending 5.5 percent of GDP and Germany spending 10.9 percent.

The average life expectancy of a man ranges from 65.4 in Lithuania to 78.4 years in Sweden while women in Romania have the lowest life expectancy coming in at 75.4 years, a figure that rises to 83.9 for their Spanish counterparts.

Reacting to the data which will be presented to EU leaders at a summit next month, social affairs commissioner Vladimir Spidla said that although reforms to make national systems more fiscally and socially sustainable are "encouraging" there are still "big challenges ahead."

Mr Spidla also published a separate report on "flexicurity" - Europe's answer to the challenges of globalisation.

The report suggests changing rigid labour practices in the member states in favour of a more flexible system allowing for the easier hiring and firing of people and more varied contracts but greater training, benefits and social security for workers on a Danish-type model.

"Reforms of legislation relating to contracts would allow easier job transitions and provide more opportunities for workers to progress, as would higher investments in training," the report said.

However it warned that despite Europe in 2005 seeing the biggest increase in the employment rate since 2001, some 22 million jobs would still have to be created to meet employment targets set for 2010.

"If Europe is to respond seriously and effectively to the challenges of globalisation and a rapidly shrinking working population, flexicurity must be the order of the day. Workers must be able to move easily and with confidence from one job to the next," said Mr Spidla.