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Document 52009AE0883

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(2008) 869 final — 2008/0252 (CNS)

OJ C 277, 17.11.2009, p. 100–101 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

17.11.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 277/100


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(2008) 869 final — 2008/0252 (CNS)

(2009/C 277/21)

Rapporteur working alone: Mr JANSON

On 3 February 2009, the European Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Proposal for a Council Decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States

COM (2008) 869 final – 2008/0252 (CNS).

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Education, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 6 April 2009. The rapporteur was Mr JANSON

At its 453rd plenary session, held on 13 and 14 May 2009 (meeting of 13 May), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 193 votes to 7, with 9 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.   Article 128(2) of the Treaty requires that the validity of the current Employment Guidelines for 2009 be confirmed by a Council decision, following consultation with the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the EESC.

1.2.   The EESC endorses the proposal that the validity of the Employment Guidelines for 2008-2010 be confirmed for 2009, subject to the comments set out below.

1.3.   The National Reform Programmes need to be more ambitious with respect to employment policy and workers’ rights and obligations.

1.4.   There needs to be a much stronger emphasis on the integration of young people into the labour market and a continued emphasis on combating discrimination.

1.5.   The transition to the knowledge economy requires a much more rigorous and focused approach to vocational training and lifelong learning. It is important that there be more consistency in integrating investment in research, development and innovation.

1.6.   The EESC feels that the employment guidelines do not give enough attention to gender equality and the need to balance work and family life.

1.7.   The economic crisis will lead to higher unemployment and lower employment rates and in other ways make it more difficult for the EU to achieve the goals laid down in the Employment Guidelines.

1.8.   It is important that the Member States give priority to the guidelines which are key to employment and growth, namely (1) implementing employment policies aimed at achieving full employment, improving quality and productivity at work, and strengthening social and territorial cohesion; (2) ensuring inclusive labour markets, enhancing work attractiveness, and making work pay for job seekers, including disadvantaged people and the inactive; and (3) expanding and improving investment in human capital (1).

1.9.   The EESC would stress the need for the social partners and civil society to be involved in all stages of drawing up and implementing the Employment Guidelines.

2.   Gist of the Commission document

2.1.   The guidelines constitute national commitments made at EU-level and set overall objectives for Member States to be implemented through their National Reform Programmes (NRP). The integrated guidelines will expire at the end of the first three-year cycle, and will therefore need to be renewed for the next cycle.

2.2.   According to the Commission, Member States stepped up the implementation of structural reforms during the first three-year cycle (2005–2008). Reforms in line with the Lisbon Strategy helped increase the growth potential of Member States’ economies and also helped to make the European economy more resilient in dealing with external shocks, such as higher energy and commodity prices and currency fluctuations.

2.3.   The new governance in the Lisbon Strategy, with its emphasis on partnership between the EU level and the Member States level, has proved its worth. The Commission's view is therefore that the integrated guidelines are fulfilling their role and thus do not require revision.

3.   Previous comments by the EESC

3.1.   The EESC analysed the guidelines and their shortcomings in an opinion it issued last year (2). The analysis is still relevant.

3.2.   In that opinion the Committee states that it feels that the National Reform Programmes are not ambitious enough with respect to employment policy and workers’ rights and obligations. This reflects the emphasis in the current guidelines for Member States to set their own targets, as a result of which there is continuing concern that the employment policy measures can no longer be judged against specific, quantifiable targets.

3.3.   There needs to be far more emphasis than at present on integrating young people into the labour market whilst continuing to focus on combating discrimination based on age, disability, ethnic origins or gender.

3.4.   If the EU is to become a knowledge-intensive economy, the transition to the knowledge economy requires a much more rigorous and focused approach to vocational training and lifelong learning in order to be able to adapt to new technologies and restructuring of the industrial base and to enable individuals to acquire transferable skills. One way to achieve this is to apply a more consistent approach in integrating investment in research, development and innovation, both to stimulate the economy and to create new jobs (3).

3.5.   The Employment Guidelines do not pay enough attention to gender equality and the need to balance work and family life. This is important in order to be able to respond to demographic change and meet the challenges of an ageing workforce.

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

4.   General comments

4.1.   In the short and medium term the economic crisis will lead to higher unemployment and lower employment rates and in other ways make it more difficult for the EU to achieve the Lisbon process objectives.

4.2.   Although some progress was made before the crisis, a major problem continues to be the differences between countries as regards how well some of them have succeeded in achieving the objectives and in implementing various measures within and across Member States. The economic crisis is exacerbating the situation in this regard.

4.3.   If Member States want to avoid a repetition of the depression of the 1930s, the EESC believes that it is important to give priority to the guidelines which are crucial for employment and growth. The countries which will be hardest hit by the crisis will be those whose governments have not taken action to support employment but have instead continued to pursue the same policies as during normal economic times.

4.4.   The relevant guidelines here are those which seek to: (1) implement employment policies aimed at achieving full employment, improving quality and productivity at work, and strengthening social and territorial cohesion; (2) ensure inclusive labour markets, enhance work attractiveness, and make work pay for job seekers, including disadvantaged people and the inactive; and (3) expand and improve investment in human capital (4).

4.5.   It is essential in this context that the Commission and the other parties involved be able to quickly simplify the rules governing the use of the Structural Funds, the Social Fund and the Globalisation Fund so as to enable the funding of the implementation of the Employment Guidelines. The EESC continues to believe that it is very important that appropriate funding be made available at EU and national level for prioritising employment initiatives.

4.6.   The EESC would like to see the Commission play a greater part than hitherto in developing objectives at EU and national level and in monitoring and assessing progress. This would boost the weight and standing of the annual reports on National Reform Programmes in the Member States.

4.7.   The EESC would stress the need for the social partners and civil society to be involved in all stages of drawing up and implementing the Employment Guidelines.

Brussels, 13 May 2009.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Mario SEPI


(1)  Integrated guidelines Nos 17, 19 and 23 (COM(2007) 803 final/3, Part V).

(2)  EESC opinion of 13 February 2008 on the Proposal for a Council Decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States), rapporteur: Mr Greif (OJ C 162 of 25.6.2008).

(3)  EESC has dealt with this issue in previous opinions, see for instance:

EESC opinion of 12 July 2007 on Investment in Knowledge and Innovation (Lisbon Strategy), rapporteur: Mr Wolf (OJ C 256 of 27.10.2007);

EESC opinion of 26 February 2009 on Cooperation and transfer of knowledge between research organisations, industry and SMEs – an important prerequisite for innovation, rapporteur: Mr Wolf (OJ C 218 of 11.9.2009, p. 8)

(4)  See footnote 1.


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