EUROPE - The European Commission has proposed that European Union member states adopt a single set of objectives on pensions and other social protection issues by 2006.

The Commission said the proposal "aims to improve, simplify and make more visible" the EU's coordination of member states' policies on pensions, social inclusion, poverty, healthcare and care for the elderly.

The proposals came in a document called “Strengthening the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy: streamlining open co-ordination in the field of social protection”.

"Rationalisation - or 'streamlining' - will involve agreeing on a single set of common objectives covering the different policy areas of social protection - pensions, social inclusion and combating poverty, healthcare and care for the elderly and 'making work pay'," the Commission said in a statement.

"The Commission proposes that these common objectives be adopted in 2006 following an in-depth evaluation of the progress achieved through EU policy co-ordination in each of the above policy areas."

Employment commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou said the EU must help governments to coordinate the reforms necessary in the face of demographic pressure. "Without effective EU co-ordination of social protection reforms, we risk reforming too slowly, too ineffectually and too unfairly," she said.

Existing member states are to present implementation reports covering the period since 2002, it said. They would also have to provide an update of their national strategy reports for 2002 focusing on new major policy developments.

New member states would have to present national strategy reports on pensions by mid-2005. These would contain an analysis of their situation - documenting the state of reform of their pension systems and setting out their strategies in the light of the "common objectives".

"This proposal will serve to reinforce the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy of economic, employment and social reform and will also increase the effectiveness of the economic and employment dimensions," the Commission said.

Speaking in Prague this week, Diamantopoulou said Europe has largely abolished old age poverty through public pensions.