Europe’s fight for more and better jobs

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For 13 years, the European Union has been fighting to create the jobs it takes to counter demographic change and worldwide competition. However, millions of jobs created are still not sufficient.

On 16 June 1997, the Amsterdam European Council adopted a Resolution on Growth and Employment, which said “it should be a priority aim to develop a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and to make labour markets responsive to economic change”. The resolution referred to new provisions for closer coordination of member states’ economic policies, and said: “While primary responsibility in the fight against unemployment rests with the Member States, we should recognise the need both to enhance the effectiveness and to broaden the content of this coordination, focusing in particular on policies for employment.”

The Amsterdam Treaty, which was signed in October 1997, and entered into force in May 1999; inserted an employment title (Title VIII; Articles 125 to 130) into the EC Treaty. It provides a mechanism for achieving ‘a high level of employment’.

In November 1997, the Luxembourg Jobs Summit put the EES in line with the new provisions in the employment title of the Treaty. The target set at that time was to achieve ‘decisive progress’ within five years. 

At the Lisbon European Council (March 2000), the European Union set itself the goal to become “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. The Council decided that the EU employment rate should be raised to 70% and the number of women in employment to 60% by 2010.

At the March 2001 Stockholm European Council, two intermediate targets and one additional target were added to these objectives: the employment rate should be raised to 67% overall and to 57% for women by 2005, and to 50% for older workers by 2010.

The March 2003 Barcelona Council carried out an evaluation of the first five years of the EES. It concluded that the EES needed to be reinforced, including a new set of guidelines, to bring it in line with the Lisbon targets.

In November 2004, a Commission expert group led by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok presented  its report  assessing the Lisbon process so far. It came to the conclusion that “disappointing delivery” was due to “an overloaded agenda, poor co-ordination and conflicting priorities”.

Accordingly, in early 2005, the newly elected Barroso Commission reviewed the Lisbon strategy at mid-term. It found that, while the EU had managed to create six million jobs, raising employment by more than 3% within the previous eight years, the Stockholm target on overall employment had been missed by more than 2%; the one for women by 0.7%. Economic performance was far from the 3% average economic growth objective. Commission José Manuel President Barroso said: “Lisbon has been blown off course by a combination of economic conditions, international uncertainty, slow progress in the member states and a gradual loss of political focus.” 

At the March 2005 European Council, it became clear that if the sluggish employment rate growth of only 1.4% over the previous five years continued, the EU was not going to meet the Lisbon goals in 2010, with problematic implications. In order to give the objective of creating more jobs new impetus, yet another set of guidelines for the EES was issued. The targets are now clearer defined and more concise , the main objective on employment remaining the 70% employment rate by 2010. 

The goal of coming to terms with high unemployment in many EU member states preceded the Lisbon strategy. 

Article 2 of the Treaty of Maastricht, which entered into force on 1 November 1993, foresaw "the following objectives: to promote economic and social progress and a high level of employment [...]". 

On 5 December 1993, the Delors White Paper on 'Growth, Competitiveness and Employment' initiated the European Employment Strategy (EES). The paper was made functional through the Essen Strategy, decided upon by the European Council in the German city in December 1994 and composed of five key objectives: the development of human resources through vocational training, the promotion of productive investments through moderate wages policies, the improvement of the efficiency of labour market institutions, the identification of new sources of jobs through local initiatives, and the promotion of access to the world of work for some specific target groups such as young people, long-term unemployed people and women.

The EES was also the first working example of the so-called Open Method of Coordination, a non-legislative working method based on a balance between subsidiarity and convergence, on management by objectives for the member states, country surveillance and an integrated trans-sectoral approach. 

  • Employment Week in Brussels, on 16 - 18 May 2006, will be under the theme of "Working together for growth and jobs". More than 50 high-rank speakers  will focus on the EU's efficiency in job creation. 

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