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Document 51995IR0375

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the 'Communication from the Commission and Proposal for a Council Decision on the Commission's activities of analysis, research, cooperation and action in the field of employment (Essen)'

CdR 375/95

OJ C 126, 29.4.1996, p. 19–23 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the 'Communication from the Commission and Proposal for a Council Decision on the Commission's activities of analysis, research, cooperation and action in the field of employment (Essen)' CdR 375/95

Official Journal C 126 , 29/04/1996 P. 0019

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the 'Communication from the Commission and Proposal for a Council Decision on the Commission's activities of analysis, research, cooperation and action in the field of employment (Essen)` (96/C 126/04)

On 18 July 1995 the Committee of the Regions, acting under Article 198c of the Treaty establishing the European Community, decided to draw up an Opinion on the above-mentioned communication and proposal.

Commission 8, Economic and Social Cohesion, Social Policy and Public Health, was instructed to prepare the Committee's work on the subject. The Rapporteur was Mrs Eva Lisa Birath Lindvall.

At its 10th Plenary Session on 15 and 16 November 1995 (meeting of 16 November 1995), the Committee of the Regions adopted the following Opinion.

1. Introduction

The Commission's proposal for activities in the areas of analysis, research, cooperation and action in the field of employment forms part of the implementation of the decision taken by the European Council in Essen. The Commission, together with the Financial Affairs Council and the Employment and Social Affairs Council, was called upon by the Council meeting in Essen to keep a watchful eye on the development of employment, to monitor the policies of the Member States in this area and to submit an annual report to the European Council on further progress in the employment market.

Against the background of the results of activities to promote employment in recent years, the Commission considers it necessary to link this monitoring process to a review and intensification of the Commission's activities in the areas of analysis, research, co-operation and activities in the field of employment.

This statement from the Commission should be seen as part of the fulfilment of the two White Papers on growth, competitiveness and employment (COM(93) 700) and on the European employment market and social policy (COM(94) 333), which the Committee of the Regions has reported on before. The Committee of the Regions' recent statement on medium-term social action programmes (COM(95) 134) is a continuation and extension of the Committee's statement in the above-mentioned White Paper.

In many ways, EU efforts to frame a policy for growth, competitiveness and employment encompass the local and regional level in its role as promoter and responsible body. For instance, it is here that conditions exist to create job opportunities within a transformed service sector, and, at the same time, develop an infrastructure which is better tailored to current needs (an increasing number of women in gainful employment and consequently increased demand for childcare services, protection of the urban environment in the broad sense, etc.).

The necessary discussions on the link between growth and job opportunities are also being continued in Commission and Council work in preparation for the Madrid Council in December 1995. The Commission proposal puts greater emphasis on efficiency in some areas of the job-creation process - systematic exchange of experience and joint research programmes.

In preparing this text, the Rapporteur essentially relied on information supplied by national delegations within the Committee of the Regions.

2. The Essen action programme (Article 1)

The Committee of the Regions:

endorses the Commission's proposal to develop and implement a special action programme (Essen) in the field of employment. This proposal should be seen as a natural consequence of the fact that the issues of unemployment and jobs are now the highest priority objective of the European Union and its Member States. It is therefore important to improve the ability of EU institutions to monitor how the Member States are implementing the Essen conclusions. The Committee of the Regions considers it important that the Commission and the Council, together with the Committee of the Regions and other Community institutions, should be able to obtain accurate and up-to-date information about developments in the employment market in various parts of the Union;

shares the Commission's view that it is necessary to supplement the proposed multilateral monitoring system by reorganizing and strengthening activities in the area of policy analysis on the employment market and jobs;

emphasizes the Commission's view that such a new strategy can be given added value by identifying and encouraging successful methods and activities and promoting innovation and exchanges of experience. However it wishes to place special emphasis on the importance of mobilizing players at local and regional level to help with this task. Organizations at this level have many years of experience of efforts to fight unemployment and create better working conditions, and it may be useful to pass these on to others. Employment and unemployment at local and regional level has a considerable effect on the economic conditions which allow local and regional bodies to meet their social objectives. This provides a strong incentive to encourage these bodies to participate actively in this type of work;

emphasizes that the implementation of most of these five main priority areas in which action is to be taken for economic growth, resulting in increased employment, as set out at the Council meeting in Essen, is highly dependent on the degree of commitment and opportunities for active participation which exist at local and regional level. The main areas in which the Committee of the Regions considers active local and regional participation to be particularly important are as follows:

- improving job opportunities by promoting investment in vocational training;

- improving the effect of growth on employment through more flexible organization of work and by promoting initiatives, particularly at regional and local level, which create jobs that take account of new requirements, for example in the environmental and social care fields;

- increasing the efficiency of employment policy;

- taking action to help groups which are particularly severely affected by unemployment, especially young people, the long-term unemployed, older workers and unemployed women;

emphasizes the results and conclusions arising from the Commission's statement on local development and employment initiatives (LDEI), which also indicate the potential to create the conditions required for increasing employment at local and regional level. Here the Commission has identified 17 areas which should be able to meet the new demands of citizens. Experience has shown that the local and regional levels are best at creating the conditions to meet these requirements. This is because they can take better account of the distinctive features of the culture and socio-economic organization in question, and hence create jobs more effectively. According to the estimates set out in the LDEI, encouraging local and regional initiatives should make it possible to create hundreds of thousands of jobs within the Union each year. The Committee of the Regions considers that such efforts should above all aim to promote lasting and financially viable jobs. The Committee of the Regions considers that the future conditions under which support is provided to agriculture should be seen as an environmental target, which may help to create employment in regions which are dependent on agriculture;

points out that demographic developments in the Union and the Member States will affect the development of the employment market, with fewer people of working age and an increased need for care for elderly people. This change will result in a new structure of demand for goods and services. It will also have financial consequences, not least for bodies at regional and local level;

assumes that contributions at local and regional level will play an important role in work carried out within the framework of the action programme. In order to remedy structural unemployment, far-reaching adjustments to local and regional market conditions are often needed;

notes that, at this level, potential is not restricted to exploiting local and regional schemes to provide new employment opportunities in the environment sphere or social services. Local and regional actors can also help to boost employment in the long-term in the shape of initiatives to facilitate economic regeneration and adjustments to new demands. This might involve the dissemination of technology, assistance in setting up companies in expanding sectors, providing access to new qualifications, etc. Local and regional authorities also have considerable responsibility for education and infrastructure. All this is required if the local and regional level is to attract the investment and business needed to create sustainable employment in the private sector;

observes that in most Member States, employment market policy has become decentralized in recent years. Local and regional bodies now play an active part in planning, establishing priorities and co-ordinating efforts on behalf of the unemployed in the employment market;

observes that when there is a demand among SMEs for the development of skills, the supporting and co-ordinating role of local and regional bodies becomes important. These bodies often also provide advisory and support services for the unemployed, and these can be profitably supplemented by active employment policy measures;

highlights experience which shows that local and regional authorities have a strategic role to play in the partnership which is needed to obtain resources from the Union's funds and programmes. They have an important part to play in co-ordinating development efforts in the areas of planning, financing and implementation. They are also in a good position to gather information which is useful to the private sector, for example concerning opportunities for companies to benefit from the Union's funds and programmes;

recommends that the Commission, in implementing the Essen action programme, be given the opportunity to establish direct contacts with local and regional bodies for the purpose of carrying out practical cooperation projects of an innovative nature. These experiences can then be disseminated via the programme, and serve as an example for local and regional action in other Member States;

observes that the recent recession has forced regional organizations to discharge their duties under more difficult economic conditions than before. This has resulted in a need for rethinking and innovation within the public sector in many Member States. These experiences may be useful for the development of society as a whole. Examples of this include successful co-operation projects between local and regional bodies. In these cases it has been possible to avoid making staff redundant, through agreements on training and skills development, linked with structural changes. There are also examples of short-term action in the employment market, initiated by local and regional bodies, being combined with the need for skills development in SMEs. This has resulted in permanent jobs and more competitive businesses;

observes that progress in local and regional job creation is often the result of co-operation between many different players at that level, where people are working with common objectives or within a co-ordinated social development plan;

recalls the importance of 'territory` as a place of creation and as a base for a strategy of development managed by a community of local actors capable of putting it in place, not only in its economic and technological, but also in its social, cultural and environmental dimensions, and of ensuring social cohesion.

3. Resources for implementing the action programme

The Committee of the Regions:

regrets that the proposed financial framework - totalling ECU 57 million for 1996-2000 - is out of all proportion to the size of the problem. During the on-going examination of the Commission's proposals, the aim must be to make resources available which will also facilitate specific initiatives on the basis of the results and experience obtaining from the Essen programme. This will help to counteract the negative effects on employment of any international economic recession.

4. Structure of the action programme (Article 2)

The Committee of the Regions:

welcomes the proposed definition of the aims of the action programme;

assumes that the analysis of labour market and employment policies will be comprehensive in scope, and not stop short at an assessment from a purely macroeconomic, national perspective; on the contrary, it should actively exploit the experiences to be found at regional and local level in the Member States. It is vital that people with specialist knowledge and experience of this kind be involved in the work carried out under the action programme;

proposes that the Commission should examine suggestions from public bodies and other organizations at local and regional level each year, concerning current areas of research into the employment market and jobs, which warrant Commission funding over the next two years. This could be very helpful in ensuring that the research in question focuses on problems that are familiar to those bodies and organizations.

5. The tools of the action programme (Article 3)

The Committee of the Regions:

notes the proposed content and type of action to achieve the objectives set under the action programme;

assumes that the proposed systems for data collection, exchange of information and employment studies (Article 3a) will be rooted in regional and local patterns and trends. Where this requires action from local and regional bodies, it must be funded either from EU resources or under arrangements within each Member State;

recommends that Commission support for employment creation and promotion projects on the basis of EU funding and programmes (Article 3b) should not be confined to methodological and technical assistance, but be expanded to include support for the financing proper of innovative schemes managed at local and regional level. Funding should be shared between the competent local bodies and the EU. Without financial support for these measures, there is less opportunity to try out new ideas. This should also make it possible for the Commission to look to new countries for cooperation partners who are prepared to try out a project which has, so far, only been put into practice in a single Member State;

further recommends that, in the light of the above comments, the instruments for exchange of experience be extended to enable the Commission to provide financial support for reproducing promising actions which have been tried out in one Member State in other countries. If the Commission is able to provide part of the funding for these pilot projects, exchanges of experience between the Member States will be more tangible and fruitful than would be possible with a mere exchange of documentation on each others' projects. The results of the Essen programme should serve as a model for activities conducted under the Structural Funds in general and the Social Fund, in particular;

emphasizes the need for the methods for disseminating (Article 3c) the results to be specially adapted and designed in accordance with local and regional conditions, so that the information can be assimilated in the best possible way. The Committee of the Regions considers that the tools used for the exchange of information between the Member States and the Commission need improvement. Until now, various efforts have been made in parallel, without adequate co-ordination. Greater use of modern information technology will be an important tool to increase the effectiveness of information distribution, but it means that all organizations at both local and regional level will have to fulfil the technical and economic requirements and have the necessary knowledge to use that technology;

recommends that opportunities for direct contacts between local and regional bodies in various Member States for the purpose of distributing information and experiences should be given appropriate encouragement and support;

points out the need for information to be made quickly accessible so that local and regional bodies can benefit from positive experiences in order to solve their problems as quickly as possible. The information provided must clearly indicate which activities have been carried out, and their effects in various regions. The Committee of the Regions also wishes to point out certain requirements that this information must fulfil, in terms of being up-to-date, clear, accessible and suitable for comparisons over time and between states and regions;

recommends that the information should be transferred quickly to suitable bodies with instructions to monitor progress and assess the results of the players' activities at local and regional level;

observes that the Commission has proposed, within the framework of the Fourth equal opportunities action programme, to co-operate with the competent national bodies to provide support to centres concerned with equality in one or more regions of individual Member States;

proposes that it should similarly be possible to create regional centres to act as contact points and information nodes within the framework of the Essen programme. It should be possible to distribute programmes, activities or actions originating from national, local or regional institutions in Europe through these centres. These could be used to reduce unemployment and increase employment. Regional information centres should also be able to engage in network co-operation, to facilitate the distribution and exploitation of these activities.

6. Co-operation with other initiatives and programmes (Article 4)

The Committee of the Regions:

would point out the need for coordination under the Essen action programme, and between the latter and the Union's other initiatives and national activity in these areas;

assumes that better cooperation will also include the possibility, for instance, to adapt the structural fund programmes and Community initiatives to allow rapid exploitation of ideas and experiences which have come to hand as a result of work with the Essen programme. If the Decision is backed by explicit encouragement for such adaptation, then the impact and practical success of the action programme could be enhanced considerably;

suggests that the Commission should disseminate the Essen action plan widely so that the local and regional bodies working with the Structural Fund programmes can also take into account the activities to be pursued in connection with the Essen programme. Coordination between the Essen programme and the Structural Funds - especially in the case of employment - should be seen as a source of development potential to be exploited. This is particularly true of equal opportunities, since women, to a large extent, are often employed in local and regional service-related activities. The local and regional connection is also of some importance when dealing with schemes to assist vulnerable groups, since these bodies are often responsible for their social back-up. The importance of coordination with local and regional activity should be stressed in the Council Decision.

7. Participation in the programme by other countries (Article 5)

The Committee of the Regions:

welcomes the proposal that there should be an opportunity for non-EU countries to take part in some of the programme's activities;

proposes that co-operation with these countries should be organized in the areas of research and study to find ways of alleviating the difficulties experienced by citizens who have migrated to a specific EU country and then find themselves marginalized on the employment market.

8. Implementation of the Essen Programme (Article 6)

The Committee of the Regions:

takes note of the proposal on how the action programme should be implemented;

proposes, in accordance with what has been stated above (in point 2) that the Commission and its institutions should also be able to arrange direct co-operation with regional and local bodies within their areas of responsibility and bearing in mind the principle of subsidiarity.

9. Cooperation for the purpose of implementation (Article 7)

The Committee of the Regions:

welcomes the proposal to involve the social partners in the implementation of the action programme;

anticipates that the regional and local level will be given direct opportunities to monitor and influence the shape of the programme. Neither the CEMR nor the AER currently has social partner status. This fact needs to be stressed because, in many countries, the local and regional levels account for a large proportion of employment, and are also important players in the area of job creation.

Done at Brussels, 16 November 1995.

The Chairman of the Committee of the Regions

Jacques BLANC