Standing Committee on Employment
Brussels, 06 March 2001
Meeting of the Standing Committee on Employment
1. The Standing Committee on Employment, chaired by Mrs Ingela THALÉN, Minister for Social Security, met today for the fifth time since its reform in March 1999. The Committee ensures that there is continuous dialogue between the Council, the Commission and the social partners, in order to enable the social partners to contribute to the coordinated employment strategy, taking into account the economic and social objectives of the Community. The Chairmen of the Employment Committee and of the Social Protection Committee were also present.
2. The Committee discussed the preparation of the Stockholm European Council of 23/24 March 2001 Ė the follow up of the Lisbon Strategy, principally on the basis of the Commission's synthesis report "Realising our Potential: Consolidating and Extending the Lisbon Strategy".
3. The Committee underlined the importance of fully implementing the Lisbon Strategy in order to reach the unionís strategic 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". The Committee acknowledged the crucial importance of full employment and emphasised the need for a broad approach including action in areas such as employment, innovation, economic reform and social cohesion.
4. The Committee welcomed the Commissionís synthesis report, which forms a good foundation for the discussion in Stockholm and highlights key issues for further development within the Lisbon Strategy. The balance and interaction between the economic, employment and social dimensions should fully reflect the European Council conclusions. The Committee emphasised the importance of creating the right framework conditions for achieving the overall objective of raising the employment rate to 70% by 2010 and increasing the number of women in employment to more than 60% by 2010.
5. Furthermore, the Committee stressed the need to tackle the demographic challenge since it is likely to have a very real impact on labour force supply, social protection including pensions and health care, education and public finances. The Committee pointed out the need to implement policies which facilitate and support entry into the labour market and make it possible for the individual to remain and develop in the labour market, not least as a means of dealing with change. In this context the importance of implementing the Lisbon policy decisions in order to increase the employment rates for older workers, both men and women, was stressed. The Committee discussed quality in work and how to achieve a sustainable long-term working life. In this respect, lifelong learning for all was crucial in order to increase employability.
6. The Committee supported the setting up of a High-level Task Force to address the issue of skills and mobility in the knowledge-based economy. The Task Force should draw on the expertise of business, education and the social partners, as well as on political expertise, and should report before the Spring Summit in 2002.
7. The Committee wished to stress the importance of bringing about a new articulation in economic and social policy making. This will require attention being given to developing better policy co-ordination between different policy areas : economic, employment and social policy. The Spring European Council provides a new key forum for ensuring, on an annual basis, effective co-ordination, consistency and complementarity across economic, employment and social policies. The Broad Economic Policy Guidelines for 2001 should, in this context, focus on the medium- and long-term implications of structural policies and on reforms aimed at promoting economic growth potential, employment and social cohesion, as well as on the transition towards a knowledge-based economy. The BEPG for 2001 should create a broad framework, supporting and supplementing the implementation of the objectives of the Employment Strategy as well as the objectives with regard to social inclusion and social protection.
8. The European Social Agenda is the instrument for the social policy contribution to the Lisbon Strategy. Its implementation should be followed up and progress during the coming year should be examined at the Spring European Council.
9. The employers' representatives underlined five equally-important priorities for the Stockholm Summit:
- completing the single market: in financial services by implementing the Financial Services action plan by 2003 and introducing a single company prospectus applicable in all EU capital markets; in transport, energy and telecom markets, by liberalising these markets in the EU, taking careful account of the specificities of services of general economic interest, by ensuring the transparency of state aid and public procurement decisions, by making further efforts in the European standardisation process, by making progress in the reduction of administrative burdens in the VAT system, by removing remaining tax and legal obstacles to the operation of pan-European business and investment;
- creating a European Information Society: implementing the "e-Europe plan", overcoming the skills gap in IT and IT-related areas, clarifying the taxation of electronic commerce, putting in place alternative dispute-resolution systems;
- improving Europe's capacity in research and innovation through better cooperation between enterprises and academia, involving companies more closely in the 6th Research and Development Framework Programme, setting up an EU framework for the protection of intellectual property rights and introducing a Community patent;
- implementing SME-friendly policies by simplifying rules, lowering the tax burden on business, including taxes on labour, and creating a European private company statute to meet the needs of SME's; implementing the action lines of the European Charter for Small Firms;
- improving labour-market flexibility and efficiency by putting the emphasis on entrepreneurship, employability and mobility of labour, addressing the strains on social security systems resulting from the demographic challenge, removing obstacles to the transferability of pension rights, promoting social inclusion and lifelong learning.
Even though Member States have the main responsibility for action in these fields, the employers were in favour of ensuring appropriate cooperation and coordination, where necessary.
10. The employees' representatives stated that:
- all aspects of the Lisbon strategy, which was an integrated macro-economic and structural one embracing growth, employment, competitiveness and cohesion, should be followed up in Stockholm. They stressed the importance of the full-employment goal.
- they endorsed the proposal to set interim objectives of raising the employment rate to 67% by 2005 and of increasing the number of women in employment to more than 57% by 2005; national targets for employment rates should be set together with the social partners;
- these targets should be reflected in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and in the Employment Guidelines;
- the labour market should be open to all and greater stress should be placed on investing in human resources and on lifelong learning for all. New initiatives on employment, such as the action plan proposed in "new European labour markets", including removing obstacles to mobility, should be taken up in the European Employment Strategy;
- improving and modernising the European social model is important in order to manage the process of change, to face the demographic challenge, to raise employment rates to promote high quality public services and to promote gender equality;
- and finally they agreed on the importance of making financial markets work better; of having the right regulations (instead of de-regulation); of promoting European progress in the information society; and of improving the effectiveness of research and development policy.
11. The Committee was confident that the Stockholm European Council would be a successful follow-up of the Lisbon Strategy and would contribute significantly to making Europe 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, and reaching the goal of full employment. The Standing Committee expressed its readiness to continue playing a key role in this process.