Porto hosts a vibrant regional forum for Europe

Porto hosts a vibrant regional forum for Europe

Europe is not only the cradle of social security, but a region demonstrating constant innovation and dynamic developments in the context of significant challenges. Expanding, strengthening and building resilient social security systems for future generations is the key objective. Against this background, the Regional Social Security Forum for Europe (RSSF Europe) was notable for its record participation and rich discussions. 

With 475 registered participants from 140 institutions in 55 countries, the Regional Social Security Forum for Europe hosted in Porto, Portugal from 16 to 18 April 2024 was the biggest ever. This mirrors the strong engagement of International Social Security Association (ISSA) members across the region stretching from Iceland to Kyrgyzstan, and from Norway to Malta.

Rich programme based on social security developments and trends in Europe

The rich three-day programme contained 24 plenary and parallel sessions with contributions from 105 speakers and moderators. On the opening day, Secretary General Marcelo Abi-Ramia Caetano presented the new ISSA report Social security developments and trends – Europe 2024, outlining key areas of social security developments and reforms in recent years. The International Labour Organization and the European Commission provided their perspectives on key social security developments in the region.

The second day started with a plenary session on building innovation capacity and ensuring successful institutional transformation. This touched on many aspects, such as digitalization, human resource management, governance and communication. Panel exchanges highlighted the importance of institutional capacity and flexibility to respond to evolving population needs.

Plenary sessions on the third day focussed on how social security protects and supports people through a changing life course. This started with a session on families and children that discussed combatting child poverty, work-life balance and gender equality. A second session on social security during the working life highlighted the importance of health and skills and adaptations to a changing world of work. Finally, a third session on social security with ageing populations, focussed on strategies to work towards adequate and sustainable pensions and long-term care services.

In addition, twelve parallel sessions were built around a selection of good practices from ISSA members, covering digital technologies and service delivery, promoting awareness and protecting social security rights, prevention and rehabilitation, addressing gender inequalities and supporting families, social security for rural and agricultural workers, accessibility and benefit take-up, institutional performance and the social security workforce, and practical tools for jobseekers, employers and retirement planning, to name just a few.

The two main Good Practice Award winners presented their good practices in a plenary session. The Social Insurance Institution (Zakład Ubezpieczeń Społecznych – ZUS) of Poland won the Good Practice Award for Europe for its support programmes to Ukrainian refugees, and the Federation of Social Insurances (Dachverband der Österreichischen Sozialversicherungsträger) from Austria won of the Special Distinction for Innovation, for the implementation of e-prescriptions.

On the closing day, a high-level policy symposium included government representatives from Kyrgyzstan, Malta, Moldova, Spain and Switzerland, countries with both different and similar challenges, including; social security in times of crisis, ageing populations, low fertility rates, family and childcare policies, changing labour markets and platform work and the digital and green transition.

Vibrant region

Strong participation at RSSF Europe reflects the vibrant ISSA membership in the region, supported by the ISSA European Network, which has strengthened its activities and organized a number of technical seminars and webinars. The Liaison Office for Eurasia plays an important role for that region, and the Focal Points for French-speaking and for Portuguese-speaking countries are intercontinental networks that also play a key role for European members. Portuguese-speaking members held a meeting in Porto in connection with the Regional Forum.

ISSA has also strengthened its cooperation with relevant regional and international organizations, such as the European Commission (EC), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the European Labour Authority (ELA) which were all represented and contributed to the success of the Regional Forum

Marking 50 years of democracy and social security in Portugal

The Regional Forum also gave the opportunity to mark the 50 years anniversary of the Carnation Revolution which brough democracy back to Portugal in April 1974. The national session on the first day gave participants insights into how this started an era of social and economic progress based on social rights and a comprehensive social security system that pulled large parts of the population out of poverty, in particular the elderly. Today, the focus is on making social security fit for the future by addressing changing labour markets and digital nomads, stimulating employability and employment, ensuring work-life balance for families, and building social security awareness among young people.

Hosts and future events of the ISSA

The Regional Social Security Forum for Europe was hosted by the General Directorate for Social Security (Direção-Geral da Segurança Social), the Social Security Institute (Instituto da Segurança Social) and the Informatics Institute (Instituto de Informática) of Portugal. The next regional forum will take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 3–5 December 2024 for the Asia and the Pacific region. This will be the final regional forum of the ISSA 2023–2025 triennium, which will conclude with the World Social Security Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to be held in late 2025.