In a video presentation to the first ever meeting of G20 employment ministers in Washington DC yesterday (21 April), EU Employment Commissioner László Andor supported the creation of a global skills strategy, and called for industrial powers to maintain pre-recession job creation plans.
Andor, who was unable to travel to the US amid continued restrictions on European airspace, sent the influential forum a video presentation outlining the EU's input into a global response to the economic recession.
This was the first time in history that G20 employment ministers have met. Until now, G20 meetings had either grouped heads of state or finance ministers.
The urgency behind holding such a meeting was driven by the impact of the global economic crisis on employment.
EU sources said Andor was able to make a favourable impression at the meeting because Europe's ability to withstand the unemployment crisis had thus far been much better than expected.
However, a lack of EU unity has been a recurring problem at G20 heads of state meetings, and similar problems could emerge at this forum, European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) boss John Monks told EurActiv.
"It's never fully clear if this area is an EU or member-state competence," he said, adding that Andor's success would be judged by his ability to persuade member states to speak with one voice. This has proven extremely difficult in the past (see 'Background').
Has the crisis affected EU job creation blueprints?
Andor's message was that the European Commission believes many of its employment strategies could serve as best-practice examples for other industrial powers.
However, many of the bloc's employment strategies were framed before the onslaught of the recession, therefore it remains to be seen how flagship Brussels blueprints such as the push for 'new skills for new jobs' have been affected by the global economic crisis.
According to a report by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), the aftermath of the recession will loom large, "but it remains unclear whether it will have an enduring effect or prove to be an acute, but ultimately short-lived interruption of 'business-as-usual'".
Andor seemed to indicate in his speech that the response to the crisis does not require radically new strategies, but rather the acceleration of changes that were already emerging prior to the global recession.
"Innovation and new technologies, global warming and demographic change were already affecting the types of skills needed," he noted, adding that "the current crisis makes it more urgent for us to keep up with the pace of these changes and address existing structural challenges affecting jobs and skills needs".
Global Skills Strategy
In particular, he called for G20 members to support a "Global Skills Strategy," which is currently being developed in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
John Monks welcomed the introduction of the ILO into the global debate, saying "it's absolutely right" for it be given more influence in this field.
The European Platform of Social NGOs also offered a tentative endorsement of the move, although the organisation's president, Conny Reuter, told EurActiv that its support was conditional on a link being made between the importance of new skills and the actual quality of jobs being created.
"The quality of a job depends on more than just the skills of the worker," he concluded.