20.7.2007   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 168/47


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Decision on guidelines for the Employment Policies of the Member States

COM(2006) 815 final — 2006/0271 (CNS)

(2007/C 168/10)

On 12 January 2007 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 23 March 2007. The rapporteur was Ms O'Neill.

At its 435th plenary session, held on 25 and 26 April 2007 (meeting of 25 April 2007), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 129 votes to 4 with no abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

In accordance with Article 128(2) of the Treaty the current Employment Guidelines require confirmation by a Council decision to be maintained for 2007 following consultation with the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the EESC.

1.2

The EESC supports the proposal that the Employment Guidelines 2005-2007 be maintained for 2007 bearing in mind the highlighted areas of concern and recommendations.

1.3

The EESC strongly recommends that the timetable and process to be adopted is widely and timeously circulated to the range of stakeholders in order to maximise the benefit from this process, to build on good will and to ensure the maximum participation by stakeholders and to allow sufficient time for responses at EU and national level at the development stage.

1.4

The EESC recommends that there is stronger emphasis on the inclusion of people with special needs into the new Employment Guidelines with specific targets and greater recognition of social policy requirements. The EESC stresses the importance of the involvement of social partners and civil society at the earliest possible time in the development of the guidelines by the Commission as well as being consulted on the final document.

1.5

The EESC recommends that the Commission takes steps immediately to engage with the EESC on the development of the Employment Guidelines by establishing formal and informal contacts in order to take a proactive approach to the development of the Employment Guidelines for the next three years.

1.6

The EESC calls for much more ambitious, measurable targets which can be benchmarked in the new guidelines at EU and member state level, and for more enforcement powers for the Commission.

1.7

The EESC recommends that appropriate ICT systems are available in all member states to ensure an improvement in the collection of data and to facilitate monitoring and evaluation by both member states and the Commission.

1.8

The EESC continues to recommend that National Reform Programmes must include more concrete evidence of defined objectives, timescales, cost and budget provision.

2.   The Commission's proposal for a decision

2.1

At the beginning of 2007 the Commission sent the EESC a proposal as part of the consultation process to validate the ‘Guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States’ for 2007 which require to be confirmed by a Council decision.

2.2

The Commission proposes that the employment guidelines set out for period 2005-2008 (1) based on Article 128 of the Treaty, be maintained for 2007 and shall be taken into account by Member States in their employment policies (2).

2.3

In proposing this decision, the Commission is taking account of the Lisbon Strategy from 2005 which is based on the new cycle of governance with an integrated package of guidelines which remain valid until 2008. These encompass economic, social and environmental dimensions.

2.4

The Member States are required to prepare National Reform Programmes which have been assessed by the Commission. This annual review sets out the progress that has been made in meeting the guidelines and provides the conclusions from which the proposal to continue with the guidelines has been drawn.

3.   Previous observations from the EESC

The EESC has commented upon the guidelines in two previous opinions (3). The specific areas of concern were as follows:

The timetable for the development and adoption of the guidelines was very tight and did not allow for real debate and involvement on this important topic with a range of stakeholders both at EU and national level which had an impact on the democratic processes in relation to the development of the national programmes.

With the emphasis within the current guidelines for Member States to set their own targets there is continuing concern that the employment policy measures can no longer be judged against specific and quantifiable targets as was the position in previous programmes which has resulted in the National Reform Programmes being less ambitious in relation to employment policy, workers rights and obligations.

There needs to be a much stronger emphasis on the integration of young people into the labour market, with some guarantee for a first job with future prospects.

There needs to be continued emphasis in combating discrimination in relation to age, disability or ethnic origins.

That the transition to the knowledge economy requires a much more rigorous and focused approach to vocational training and lifelong learning in order to adapt to new technologies, restructuring of the industrial base, and enabling individuals to acquire transferable skills.

That there should be more consistency in integrating investment in research and development and innovation both to stimulate the economy and to develop new jobs.

That there was insufficient attention being given to gender equality and the need to balance work and family life.

That more attention is required in relation to the impact of demographic change and the challenges of an ageing workforce.

The need to strengthen and monitor the implementation of immigration policies and the impact on national workforce planning.

The importance of having appropriate funding at national and EU level in order to implement the employment policy measures.

4.   General comments

4.1

The EESC has in previous opinions welcomed the adoption of the integrated guidelines for 2005-2008 and continues to emphasise that success depends on the Member States taking their responsibilities seriously and putting the agreed priorities into practice at national level. There must be a strong emphasis on all the social partners and civil society being genuinely involved at all stages in the development and implementation.

4.2

The EESC recognises that progress has been made in relation to economic growth in the EU 25 and with the specific employment measures (4), but remains concerned that there continues to be a disparity between the implementation of the different measures within and between different member states and remains of the opinion that there is a lack of urgency and prioritisation to effect significant change.

4.3

The EESC would wish to see the Commission taking a stronger role in developing European wide and national targets, and monitoring and evaluating progress which would add strength and value to the Annual Reports from the National Reform Programmes in each member state.

4.4

The EESC welcomes the proposals from the Commission to commit funding from the Structural, Social and Globalisation Funds to support the implementation of the Employment Guidelines. The EESC continues to emphasise the importance of appropriate funding being made available at European and national level in order to prioritise employment initiatives.

4.5

The EESC in reiterating its concerns about lack of progress would wish to see measures and amendments in the Employment Guidelines for 2008-2010 to reflect the need for improvement.

5.   Continuing areas of concern

In the guidelines for growth and jobs set out in 2005 specific areas for improvement were set out and the EESC remains concerned that a range of targets continue not be met, that there is a lack of prioritisation at national level, and would wish to see measures to tackle these deficits put in place for the new guidelines to be issued in 2008.

The overall target of 70 % for overall employment is unlikely to be reached within this period. Although the rate set for the employment of women will have reached the proposed 60 % this is comprised of part-time, flexible and temporary work.

The target for older workers (people between 45 — 65 The Commission's definition) will also not reach the proposed target of 50 % although progress has been made.

The development of strategies for and the inclusion of people with disabilities or special needs in employment still remain poor.

There is on-going concern about the level of youth unemployment which continues to increase and that appropriate measures are being taken to improve the situation.

The basis of education as it relates to the modern labour market is a major issue in that basic and intermediate skills are lacking and there is a mismatch between skills and qualifications in relation to the employment market.

There remain significant concerns that vocational training and lifelong learning measures are being implemented effectively and that there is real commitment to financial support by either the public or the private sector.

There is a continued lack of emphasis on life long learning at all ages but particularly in relation to older workers. This is of particular concern in relation to the adaptability of the labour force.

Concerns remain around the integration of migrant workers across the member states who are filling major skills gaps in the job market.

Whilst the EESC supports the mobility of workers across the Member States, it is concerned about the impact that the transfer of skilled workers and the withdrawal of competence from one EU country to another has on the country of origin. This must be monitored and action taken in order to ensure a balance of skilled and qualified workforce is retained to ensure sustainability.

The effect on local employment opportunities needs to be examined in relation to why unemployed people are not pursuing local vacancies.

The realisation that the knowledge economy based on research and innovation is still lagging behind.

There is a lack of attention afforded to the integrated ‘lifecycle’ approach by Member States. The EESC urges the Member States to continue with their efforts to make the world of work compatible with family life. This is a task for society as a whole. In particular, the provision of child-minding facilities makes it possible to reconcile family and occupational obligations and enables women to continue to work in gainful employment, or to rejoin the labour market quickly after a break (5).

The need for Member States to move forward on strategies to improve the adaptability of workers and enterprises and in particular the potential of the concept of flexicurity (6).

Issues around the impact of ‘undeclared work’ as it impacts on the Member State and the individual still requires to be addressed.

The adoption and implementation of the ‘Decent Work’ (7) agenda and the Quality of Work (8) principles is still outstanding in some Member States.

In comparison to the US average the productivity rates in Europe remain poor which is a reflection of the rate and level of investment in people and ideas.

Although the rate of public investment in the EU is comparable to the US investment from the private sector is significantly lagging behind.

6.   Action taken by the Commission

6.1

The Commission has undertaken a review following receipt of the Annual Reports from the Member States which has resulted in the Communication Implementing the Renewed Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs ‘A Year of Delivery’ which charts progress to date. This year there is a detailed annex which sets out the recommended actions specifically required by each member state. Whilst this is of critical importance in contributing to the overall impact evaluation of the guidelines it underlines the concerns of the EESC that there is lack urgency and a disparity in the implementation of the guidelines. The Commission must have more authority to set measurable targets, co-ordinate activity and to enforce progress.

6.2

The EESC welcomes the proposed ‘Impact Evaluation’ which the Commission will be undertaking on the three year programme in conjunction with a range of agencies to measure its effectiveness and to influence the development of the new employment guidelines for 2008-2010.

6.3

The EESC welcomes the proposed consultation process on the new employment guidelines which will commence following the publication of the Commission's draft in December 2007 with a view to presenting the final proposal to the Council in June 2008 for adoption. The EESC emphasises the importance of consulting and involving the Member States and all stakeholders during this process both at EU and National level as soon as possible.

6.4

The EESC stresses the importance of having the opportunity to consider the ‘Impact Assessment’ as early as possible during 2007 in order to consider the contents, to receive information and to take a proactive part responding in order to influence the development of the guidelines and the drawing up of national programmes.

Brussels, 25 April 2007.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  COM(2005) 141 final, Integrated Guidelines for Growth and Jobs (2005-2008).

(2)  COM(2006) 815 final, Proposal for a Council Decision on guidelines for the Employment Policies of the Member States.

(3)  EESC opinion on The Employment Guidelines 2005-2008 (rapporteur: Mr Malosse), OJ C 286 of 17.11.2005 and EESC opinion on The Employment Guidelines (rapporteur: Mr Greif), OJ C 195 of 18.8.2006.

(4)  Implementing the renewed Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs — ‘A year of delivery’, COM(2006) 816 final.

(5)  EESC opinion on The Employment Guidelines 2005-2008 (rapporteur: Mr Malosse), OJ C 286 of 17.11.2005, page 41, point 3.2.3.

(6)  EESC opinion on Flexicurity: the case of Denmark (rapporteur: Ms Vium), OJ C 195 of 18.8.2006.

(7)  EESC opinion on Promoting decent work for all, 19 December 2006 (CESE 92/2007), rapporteur: Mr. Etty.

(8)  Improving quality in work, COM(2003) 728 fin, Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Improving quality in work: a review of recent progress.