Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/53

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75 establishing a European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop)’

(COM(2003) 854 final – 2003/0334 (CNS))

(2004/C 112/16)

On 16 February 2004 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 3 March 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Greif.

At its 407th plenary session (meeting of 31 March 2004) the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 99 votes to one, with six abstentions:

1.   Gist of the Commission proposal


On 8 January 2004, the European Commission submitted a proposal for the amendment of Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75 establishing a European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop). This text (1) proposes changing the rules governing the centre. It also sets out the reasons for these changes and provides background information.


The regulation is being amended to take account of upcoming EU enlargement and to adapt the centre's operating and working practices to meet future requirements. This applies in particular to the roles played by the centre's main constituent bodies – the Management Board (to be known in future as the Governing Board), the Bureau and the director.


In its justification for the proposed amendments, the Commission refers to:

agency practices in recent years;

the findings of an external evaluation of the centre's internal efficiency and external effectiveness, including the working methods of its constituent bodies, taking particular account of enlargement; (2)

the action plan adopted by the agency's Management Board as a follow-up to this evaluation and relating largely to its future operating arrangements (particularly size, composition, working methods and cost-effectiveness);

a joint opinion from the boards of Cedefop, Eurofound and EU-OSHA (3) – the three Community agencies that have a tripartite administrative structure (governments, employers, employees); this opinion, a response to the evaluation report, addresses the agencies' functioning and governance;

the European Parliament's request to the Commission to put forward appropriate proposals for the rationalisation of Community agency boards in the light of enlargement. (4)


This Commission text is a response to the European Parliament's request. Its main proposals for Cedefop are as follows:

to rationalise the Management Board's working methods by shifting away from administrative duties and moving more towards strategic tasks (including decisions on medium-term priorities, the annual work programme and the budget);

to stem the enlargement-related cost increases that would accrue if the rules remained unchanged, largely as a result of the rise in the number of board members from 48 to 78 (including a proposal to cut the number of board meetings to one a year);

to maintain a feature that is generally considered, not least by the external evaluator, to be a key factor in the centre's success – namely tripartite representation of all Member States on the Management Board (governments, employers and employees) – while at the same time formalising the rules on the role and activities of the groups represented on the Management Board (governments, employers and employees).


Other main changes proposed by the Commission to the agency's rules include:

formalising the procedure for adopting medium-term priorities;

more detailed provisions for the management and governance of the centre, particularly as regards the director's role and remit;

changes in the executive remit of the Management Board and the Bureau, and in the tripartite membership of these bodies, and their relations with the centre's director;

formalisation of the group structure and specification of group activities, among other things, by bringing in a coordinator for each of the three groups on the Management Board (representatives of governments, employers and employees);

introduction of a target for the balanced representation of men and women in the agency bodies;

establishment of a specific remit for cooperation with the European Training Foundation (ETF) in Turin.

2.   General comments


A common feature of Cedefop, the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work in Bilbao is that the social partners play a major role in their administration and to date make up almost two-thirds of board members. This reflects the key importance of national social partners in most Member States in the fields of social policy, worker protection and vocational training. Naturally, therefore, they must play a major part in sound, responsible policy-making in these areas at European level as well.


Cedefop is the first of these three Community agencies with a tripartite administrative structure to be subject to the changes called for the European Parliament. The other two agencies (Eurofound and EU-OSHA) are to be similarly revamped shortly. The changes proposed to the functioning and governance of the Thessaloniki centre will thus also be a point of reference for the other two Community agencies.


In Committee's view, that makes it all the more important to examine the proposals carefully, particularly in relation to maintaining social partners' scope to become involved in, and exert an influence on, the centre's operation, management and administration – a practice with a proven track record. Any change to the role and composition of these Community agencies' main bodies may impact on the scope for involvement and participation of the groups represented on the management Board.


The Committee thus feels that EU enlargement must not be used as an opportunity to weaken social partners' role within the agencies on grounds of cost-effectiveness or a desire to streamline operations. On the contrary, the rules must be framed in such a way that the specific involvement of the social partners – which must be retained – can be tailored to meet new future requirements.


The Committee agrees with the Commission therefore that, in all the proposals to revise the composition of the centre and the guidelines for its governance and management, it is vital to fully maintain the tripartite management structure and, thus, the involvement, on equal terms, of the social partners from all Member States. That is a key factor in the success of the centre's work, and it is the only way to ensure that all the relevant stakeholders remain on board and that the centre's work continues to take account of the wide variety of schemes and concepts in the field of vocational training.


However important it is to safeguard management bodies' ability to operate effectively, and however understandable the need to contain the costs of the projected impact of EU enlargement on the composition of the Management Board, the Committee feels it is vital to ensure that, in terms of the interests represented on the centre's management bodies, the revised rules do not make Cedefop any less representative or any less able to exert influence, and do not have an adverse impact on the breadth and depth of policy-forming or on continuity of stakeholder involvement.


With these premises in mind, the Committee welcomes most of the changes proposed by the Commission, subject to a number of specific comments and reservations about some of the points as detailed below. It hopes these will be taken on board in the ongoing work of revising the Cedefop regulation.

3.   Specific comments


Formalising good practice: Many of the Commission's proposed amendments seek to enshrine the centre's current, successful practices. This applies in particular to the work of the Bureau of the Management Board, arrangements for bringing in the social partners at national and European level, cooperation with other Community bodies and coordination of the activities of the groups represented on the centre's management bodies. The Committee is pleased that these good – and hitherto largely informal – practices are now being placed on a formalised footing. It hopes that that will make the centre more transparent, more effective and more accountable, and that it will safeguard and strengthen its tripartite structure.


Role of the European social partners: The Committee is also pleased that the proposed new regulation gives the European social partners an important role in Cedefop management through the explicit introduction of group coordinators and their right to attend meetings of the Management Board and Bureau. (5) The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) are key players in this connection. To underscore this important role, the Committee proposes amending Article 4(5) of the draft regulation so that coordinators also enjoy voting rights on the Management Board and the Bureau, and, as a logical follow-on, are also involved in the appointment of the centre's managers (director, deputy director).


Cooperation with institutes and authorities: Against the backdrop of the Lisbon strategy, and bearing in mind the importance of initial and further training and lifelong learning, the Committee also welcomes the proposal to formalise cooperation between Cedefop and the European Training Foundation in Turin. (6) The Committee hopes that that will not simply mean closer cooperation between two vocational training agencies, each with its own distinctive remit, but that a boost will also be given to cooperation and enhanced coordination with other European institutes and authorities involved in initial and further training, such as the Commission's EURYDICE service for general and higher education.


Fewer meetings of the Management Board: The Commission's key proposal for reconciling the need to increase the number of seats on the Management Board in the wake of enlargement with the need for cost neutrality is to cut the number of routine board meetings from two to just one per year. (7) One reason given by the Commission for this proposal is the Management Board's new, more strategic role, which, among other things, involves transferring administrative tasks from it to the Bureau and the directors.

The Committee signals its misgivings about such a move as it feels that scheduling just one routine board meeting a year from now on could negatively impact the breadth of dialogue between board members. It is also clear that, by cutting the number of meetings, most board members – who will not have a seat on the future eight-strong Bureau – may find it difficult to continually swap information and stay in touch with each other between the annual meetings.

To dispel these misgivings and guarantee the requisite breadth and depth of opinion-forming, the Committee proposes two courses of action:

to add the words ‘at least’ in the first sentence of Article 4(6) of the proposal amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75 so that it reads: ‘The chairman shall convene the Governing Board at least once a year’;

to insert a provision into Article 4(10) making it possible to convene meetings of an enlarged Bureau of the Governing Board as and when required.


Safeguarding continuity of stakeholder involvement: To enable all board members to continue their involvement in the centre's work, the Committee feels that additional measures are needed to offset stakeholders' diminished physical presence (as a result of less frequent meetings) and the reduced flow of information, and at the same time to secure the requisite breadth and depth of opinion-forming. It is particularly important in this regard to ensure internal coordination within the groups (governments, employees, employers) and to provide the group coordinators, who play a key role on this front, both with adequate scope for action (e.g. the facility to convene separate group meetings and the right to request meetings of an enlarged Bureau) and with the requisite resources.


Composition of the Bureau: The Committee feels that the Commission's beefed-up role in the future eight-member Bureau of the Management Board is significant. (The Bureau is to comprise two representatives from each of the Cedefop groups and two representatives from the Commission. (8)) The Committee would have expected the Commission to set out its reasons for such a change in the balance of interests represented on this management body. The Committee considers effective tripartite representation on the Bureau, too, to be essential for the centre's functioning. It hopes therefore that the Commission's beefed-up role in the Cedefop executive will boost expert input and does not expect any change in the balance of voting as a result.

In this connection, the Committee recalls the proposal set out in the Cedefop Management Board's 2001 action plan to establish an enlarged Bureau made up of a small number of permanent members and a number of rotating members in order to strike a balance between efficiency and the need for broad opinion-forming among board members. The Committee suggests resurrecting that proposal and introducing an explicit provision into Article 4(10) of the draft regulation – in addition to the suggested facility to call additional meetings – allowing the chairman to convene enlarged Bureau meetings at the request of Bureau members.


Role of the director and position of a deputy director: Broadly speaking, the revised regulation tasks the director to be the centre's legal representative, to be responsible for the centre's management and to implement the decisions of the Management Board and the Bureau. (9) The Committee has its reservations as to whether, given the aim of boosting internal efficiency, this very brief definition of the director's role and responsibilities provides the clear, razor-sharp division of tasks between director, Management Board and Bureau that Cedefop needs for its future work.

On the subject of the director's role, the Committee also feels that, in the course of reviewing the Cedefop regulation, serious consideration should be given to reintroducing the post of deputy director into the rules. That would re-establish an arrangement that had worked well for more than two decades until the rules were changes when Cedefop headquarters moved from Berlin to Thessaloniki in 1995. This arrangement was also instrumental in securing the ready involvement of the social partners in key staff decisions. Moreover, it would bring Cedefop back into line with the good practice and rules of the Dublin-based Eurofound – a move firmly backed by the Committee. The Committee therefore proposes that Article 6 of the regulation be amended in line with the relevant provisions of the Eurofound regulation (10).

In addition, the Committee feels that the regulation should explicitly state that the director's employment contracts must also be signed by the chair of the Management Board. That must also apply to the resuscitated post of deputy director. Otherwise, the deputy director's appointment would ultimately be contingent on the director's say – something that is hardly consistent with the normal practice of taking account of the full breadth of interests on the Governing Board.


Adoption of medium-term priorities: In Article 8(1) of the proposed regulation, the Commission lays down who is to be responsible for determining the centre's strategic direction. This involves the adoption, by the Management Board, of medium-term priorities and the annual work programmes on the basis of a draft submitted by the director. That too enshrines a practice which has existed de facto since the mid–1990s. The Committee welcomes the shift to a more strategic role for the Management which this move represents. It again expresses its misgivings, however, about whether the broad spectrum of opinion and sound decision-making required if the Management Body is to play this role, will be obtainable now that its meetings are being cut to one a year. One solution might be to include provision for enlarged Bureau meetings, as already called for in points 3.4 and 3.6 above.

Although it fully understands the need to ‘take into account the priority needs indicated by the Community institutions’, (11) the Committee would nonetheless point out that Cedefop's work must continue not only to benefit Community bodies and Member State governments in policy consultations, but also in the first instance, to be of use to stakeholders involved in vocational training at national level, particularly the social partners in the Member States.


Equal opportunities: Finally, the Committee is pleased that the target of securing a balanced representation of men and women in the centre's constituent bodies has been explicitly included in the rules. (12) This is a practical step towards implementing Article 3 of the Treaty establishing the European Communities. The Committee feels that Member State governments and social partner organisations are thereby called upon to take gender into account when making appointments. The Committee expects that such considerations will also be reflected in the staffing policy of the centre itself, particularly in staff decisions at managerial level.

Brussels, 31 March 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  COM(2003) 854 final – 2003/0334 (CNS)

(2)  The full report of this external evaluation of Cedefop, the Commission's response to it and the action plan adopted by the Management Board in the wake of the evaluation may be accessed at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/education/programmes/evaluation/evaluation_en.html

(3)  Cedefop – the European Agency for the Development of Vocational Training (Thessaloniki); Eurofound – the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Dublin); and EU-OSHA –the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (Bilbao)

(4)  See point 28 of EP paper A5-0079/2003, in connection with the European Parliament discharge procedure

(5)  Article 4(5) of the proposal amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75

(6)  Article 3(2) of the proposal amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75

(7)  Article 4(6) of the proposal amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75

(8)  Article 4(8) of the proposal amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75

(9)  Article 7(1) of the proposal amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75

(10)  Cf. Article 8 of Regulation (EEC) No. 1365/75 of the Council of 26 May 1975 on the creation of a European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions: ‘1. The director and deputy director of the Foundation shall be appointed by the Commission from a list of candidates submitted by the Administrative Board. 2. The director and the deputy director shall be chosen on the grounds of their competence and their independence shall be beyond doubt. 3. The director and the deputy director shall be appointed for a maximum period of five years. Their term of office shall be renewable.’

(11)  Article 8(1) of the proposal amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75

(12)  Article 4(2) of the proposal amending Regulation (EEC) No. 337/75