The European Union should equip itself with an “ambitious” social plan by spring 2010 in order to fight growing unemployment, EU leaders are expected to state at the conclusion of a two-day summit which opens in Brussels today (10 December).
Leaders will confirm the worrying scenario depicted by forecasts from across Europe. “The employment and social situation is expected to deteriorate further in 2010,” the European Council is set to reiterate.
According to European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) estimates, there are already 25 million unemployed people in the EU and this number is set to grow further in 2010. The European Commission has already forecast an EU unemployment rate of above 10% in 2010.
As a consequence, employment is set to drop below 62.4%, a level last reached in 2002, according to ETUC. In 2008 the employment rate stood at 65.9%.
Against this background, leaders will ask the European Commission to present a comprehensive plan to foster “socially inclusive growth”. The European Council “looks forward to an ambitious proposal as early as possible in 2010 with a view to a full discussion at the 2010 spring European Council,” reads the draft text, to be finalised by leaders tomorrow.
The new plan, on which the EU executive launched a public consultation in November, is aimed at replacing the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs and setting the EU’s agenda until 2020 (EURACTIV 25/11/09).
“The time leading to the spring European Council should be used to define the elements of such a strategy for EU 2020 and to examine how to ensure sustainable public finances whilst preserving investment and social welfare,” underline the draft summit conclusions.
Delaying the social debate?
This timetable, however, is not to the taste of the Socialists in the European Parliament, who are calling for delaying the debate on social issues in order to give the new Commission time to properly address the matter.
“The new Commission takes office only in February and it should have time to strengthen the ideas put forward by its predecessor,” said Stephen Hughes, vice-president of the Socialist and Democrats group.
However, a possible delay is likely to upset trade unions. ETUC has already called for a European demonstration in Brussels in March ahead of the spring European Council, dedicated to social issues.
The Greek drama
Leaders are not expected to include in their agreed text a reference to the difficult situation in Greece, where the financial and economic crisis is fueling violent social unrest. However, the Greek drama is likely to be discussed informally during the meetings, especially among eurozone leaders.
The downgrading of Greek bonds by the rating agency Fitch has worried European and global markets, driving the euro down against the dollar in view of growing concerns over the sustainability of the Greek sovereign debt, which is expected to exceed 135% of GDP in 2011, far beyond the 60% threshold suggested by the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact.