Council stresses social dimension of EU agenda

Although they were somewhat overshadowed by decisions that the Council made on climate change and better regulation, a large part of trade-union and social-NGO demands found their way into the Conclusions of the 8-9 March Spring Summit in Brussels. 

Points 18 to 20 of the Council Conclusions deal with “Boosting employment, modernising and reinforcing the European Social Model”. 

Good work: In line with a demand from the European Trade Union Confederation for member states “to commit themselves to creating secure, good quality work”, the Council Conclusions stress “the importance of ‘good work‘ and its underlying principles”, naming for instance “workers’ rights and participation, equal opportunities, safety and health protection at work and a family-friendly organisation of work”. 

Social dimension of the Lisbon Agenda:  The conclusions point out “the continuing support for European integration by the Union’s citizens”. They go on to stress “that the common social objectives of member states should be better taken into account within the Lisbon Agenda” and welcome the Joint Employment Report and the Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion.” The Council conclusions also pointed out the Commission’s social reality stocktaking report, which, they state, “should provide further input for discussions on social issues”.

Flexicurity: The Commission prepares a Communication on flexicurity – the combination of flexibility and security championed by Denmark. At the same time, European Social Partners engaged in the exercise of issuing a joint position on challenges to European labour markets, including flexicurity, to be published in a few months’ time following the Spring Council. 

The European Council stated that it “looks forward to the discussion on the Commission Communication“, adding that it “should be instrumental in preparing a range of flexicurity pathways to find the right mix of policies tailored to labour market needs including increased labour-market participation”.  

Economic and social cohesion: The Council reaffirmed “the need to strengthen economic and social cohesion throughout the Union”. It clarified that the issue is part of the social dialogue, which involves employers and trade unions, underlining “the key role of social partners”. The European Council highlights the importance of the social dimension of the EU. ” It adds that “more attention should be given to active inclusion, ie ensuring adequate levels of minimum resources for all, balanced with making work pay”.

Fight against child poverty: Within the framework of social cohesion policies, particular attention will be devoted to the fight against “poverty and social exclusion, especially child poverty”.  

Alliance for Families: The Council acclaimed plans by German Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen to set up “a platform for the exchange of views and knowledge on family-friendly policies as well as of good practices between member states”, in order to discuss challenges of demographic change. 

Equal opportunities: Finally, the Council adhered to the theme of the Commission’s 2007 Year of Equal Opportunities. It promised that “member states will continue further to develop policies that promote equal opportunities between men and women, as well as the role of young people, including their transition from school to working life, older people and low-skilled people.”

German Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyenwho created the Alliance for Families, said: " "The Alliance for Families should support the European Union and member states, in the future as well, in the effort to insure growth, employment, and prosperity in Europe. Business invests where it finds qualified people. Families settle wherever they can find the best balance between work and family life. Family-friendliness plays an increasingly important role in the competition to attract business investment in Germany, Europe and internationally."

Anne-Sophie Parent, president of the 
Social Platform
, said: "It is somewhat reassuring that common social objectives of member states should be better taken into account within the Lisbon agenda. The Social Platform has repeatedly called for more attention to social objectives over the past two years - it seems that we have been heard in Berlin." 

Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of 
Eurochild
, said: "Eurochild welcomes the long-overdue attention that is now being given to child poverty and children's well-being within the EU. We are calling for all member states to implement the commitments of their leaders and set clear targets for the reduction of child poverty, matched with serious, long-term investment in services for children and families."

Prior to the 8-9 March 2007 Spring Council in Brussels, trade unions and social NGOs addressed a number of ambitious demands to European heads of state and government (see EURACTIV, 8 March 2007). EURACTIV looks at how the Council's Conclusions reflect NGO and trade-union positions.

  • On 31 March 2007, the Commission's consultation on labour law closes. 
  • In April 2007, or possibly up to two months later, European social partners will present their joint analysis on challenges to European labour markets. 
  • In June 2007, the Commission plans to publish a Communication on flexicurity. 

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