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Council of Employment, Social Policy and Health

European Ministers devoted to Employment and Social Affairs issues

The EU´s Council of Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Ministers will meet on 28 February in Brussels. It will be devoted only to Employment and Social Affairs issues. It will be chaired by the Irish Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton and the Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton. The Commission will be represented by European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor.

Discussions will be on the basis of the letter of 1st February 2013 sent by Mr Von Rompuy to the Irish Presidency suggesting to discuss this issue in the Employment and Social Policy, Economic and Financial Affairs and Competitiveness Councils. Commissioner Andor will underline that deepening the social dimension of EMU is necessary not only from an economic point of view, but also for the sustainability and legitimacy of a genuine Economic and Monetary Union. He will emphasise that coordination and surveillance of employment and social policies should be reinforced within EMU governance and convergence in these areas promoted.

Council Recommendation on Establishing a Youth Guarantee

The Council is due to reach political agreement on the Commission´s proposal for a Council Recommendation which was presented in December 2012. The proposal calls on Member States to introduce the Youth Guarantee to ensure that all young people up to age 25 receive a quality offer of a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education.

The Youth Guarantee has already proven its worth in certain countries such as in Finland, Sweden and Austria. In Finland, a first evaluation recently published by Eurofound shows that 83.5% of young job seekers received a successful intervention within three months of registering as unemployed in 2011. The Finnish youth guarantee notably accelerated the pace at which personalised plans were drawn up and resulted in a reduction in youth unemployment. In Sweden Eurofound indicated that 68% of all participants below the age of 25 had some sort of employment 90 days after they completed a New-Start-Job.

Social Investment Package

Commissioner Andor will present to the Council the Social Investment Package (see IP/13/125, SPEECH/13/141, MEMO/13/117 and MEMO/13/118) adopted by the Commission on 20 February. He will stress to Ministers that the Package responds to the need for modernising the welfare states, gives guidance to Member States on better performing active inclusion strategies and a more efficient and more effective use of social budgets.

The Package focusses on:

  • Ensuring that social protection systems respond to people´s needs at critical moments throughout their lives. More needs to be done to reduce the risk of social breakdown and so avoid higher social spending in the future.
  • Simplified and better targeted social policies, to provide adequate and sustainable social protection systems. Some countries have better social outcomes than others despite having similar or lower budgets, demonstrating that there is room for more efficient social policy spending.
  • Upgrading active inclusion strategies in the Member States. Affordable quality childcare and education, prevention of early school leaving, training and job-search assistance, housing support and accessible health care are all policy areas with a strong social investment dimension.

The Package includes a Commission Recommendation against child poverty, calling for an integrated approach to child-friendly social investment. Investing in children and young people is especially effective in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and social exclusion and improving people´s opportunities later in life. The urgent need for such an approach has been underlined by the latest Eurostat figures on child poverty – 27% of children under 18 in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2011.

The Package also offers guidance to Member States on how best to use EU financial support, notably from the European Social Fund, to implement the outlined objectives.

European Semester 2013

The Council will hold a policy debate on the European Semester 2013. The Irish Presidency will invite Ministers to reflect on their experiences from three years of economic coordination in the framework of the European Semester, in particular when adopting and implementing labour market reforms through flexible working arrangements, the alignment of wages with productivity, the stepping up of active labour market policies and measures to ensure the effectiveness of social protection systems and to tackle poverty. The reform of pensions systems has been part of the annual recommendations and the main challenges as well as the impact of the reforms undertaken so far need to be assessed.

Pension rights

The Ministers are due to discuss "EU Pensions Rights to Support Labour Mobility" over a working lunch. Discussions under the Cyprus Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2012 have confirmed that there is support for EU-level action on the acquisition and preservation of supplementary pension rights. A Directive was originally proposed in 2005, and after the European Parliament had adopted its opinion, an amended proposal was submitted by the Commission in 2007. However, the Council has not yet reached agreement on the proposal. The Irish Presidency will seek to get to a consensus on a number of issues under discussion.

Other business

The chairs of the Employment Committee and Social Policy Committee will inform the Council on their Work Programmes for 2013. The Employment Committee chair will also provide feedback on the Committee´s meeting on 1st February with EU-level representatives of trade unions and employers on wage developments.

Of interest