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Mid-term review of the Social Policy Agenda
Following the creation of a European Social Policy Agenda (June 2000), the Commission presents a mid-term review in order to reflect on past action and to focus the key new social policy measures on the Union of 25 Member States.
Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Mid-term review of the Social Policy Agenda [COM(2003) 312 final - not published in the Official Journal].
1. This Communication, which has been drawn up on the basis of a conference organised by the Commission, is a mid-term review of the Social Policy Agenda launched by the European Commission for the period 2000-2005 under the Lisbon strategy. It is designed to check implementation of the Agenda and to pinpoint the new policies needed to achieve it.
PROGRESS ACHIEVED IN THE YEARS 2000-2003
2. The Lisbon policy framework formed the basis for the Social Policy Agenda, as introduced by the Commission in June 2000. Over these three years, the work devoted to implementing this Agenda was focused on the preparation of measures designed to guarantee the conditions conducive to a period of high, non-inflationary growth, to create jobs, wealth and prosperity and to enhance social cohesion.
3. To date, in spite of clear signs of an economic downturn and a rise in unemployment, the reforms that have been implemented have produced significant structural changes, especially the creation of nearly 10 million jobs since the European Employment Strategy was launched (1997), a fall in long-term unemployment and a rise in the labour force participation rate, which increased from 62.3% in 1999 (the year before the launch of the Social Policy Agenda) to 64.3% in 2002.
4. As far as the social situation is concerned, the lack of data means that it remains hard to determine how much progress has been made in combating poverty and promoting social inclusion. However, the improvements observed in the area of employment, especially the fall in structural unemployment, should have helped to strengthen social cohesion.
5. Since the Commission realises the role of social policy as a factor of productivity and part and parcel of the dynamic development of economies, its approach to the Social Policy Agenda covers various areas, including:
- investment in research, education and training, which strengthens the human capital available in a knowledge-based economy, increases productivity and reduces social failure;
- investment in high standards of performance at the workplace, which raises productivity and lowers losses due to accidents;
- investment in active policies in the area of integration and equal opportunities for all, in order to bring disadvantaged groups into economic life;
- investment in social harmony, which makes it possible to keep costly industrial or work disputes to a minimum.
6. These areas were covered thanks to the active role that the Social Policy Agenda gives to a wide range of players, including the institutions, bodies and agencies of the European Union; the Member States, including their regional and local authorities; the social partners, civil society and enterprises. The Commission takes the view that this participation is one of the strong points of the Agenda and that this approach must be pursued with determination.
7. The Social Policy Agenda also stresses the need to find the right combination of the various instruments available at European level, including the open method of coordination, legislation, social dialogue, the Structural Funds, the action programmes, the measures to incorporate the gender dimension, policy analysis and research. All these instruments were used very actively in the first half of the implementation of the Agenda.
THE PROGRESS TO BE MADE
8. During the first half of the implementation of the Social Policy Agenda, it proved possible to launch practically all the planned measures. The task in the second half will therefore be to check and ensure the implementation of the measures that have been launched. The priorities and the policy measures are focused on the following areas: growth and the quality of jobs, change in the working environment, combating of exclusion and discrimination, modernisation of social protection, promotion of equality between men and women and strengthening of the social side of enlargement and of the external relations of the European Union.
More and better-quality jobs
9. On the basis of the objective of ensuring that the employment rate is as close as possible to 70% by 2010, the new employment strategy focuses on three main objectives: full employment, the quality and productivity of employment, cohesion and a labour market that promotes integration.
10. In order to achieve these objectives, the Commission has adopted proposals for employment guidelines and recommendations, such as transforming undeclared work into regular jobs and clarifying the immigration issue. Together with the main economic policy guidelines, they form part of a set of strategic instruments for creating more and better jobs.
11. The Commission also planned to conduct a mid-term review of the European Social Fund (ESF), the key financial instrument of the European Employment Strategy, and to launch the second phase of the EQUAL Community initiative in 2004, designed to promote the combating of discrimination and inequality on the labour market.
Changing the work environment through a new balance between flexibility and security
12. The key message underlying the Lisbon strategy is "transformation", i.e. change as a factor for regeneration of the economy, dynamism and innovation, giving impetus to growth and productivity.
13. Realising the importance of partnership and of the cross-industry and sectoral social dialogue for change, the Commission intends to strengthen the rules and promote good practices. In order to give direction to these activities, it intends to pursue the study of representation and the production of monographs on the social partners.
14. The process of convergence that enlargement will bring about will further strengthen the need to manage economic and social change in order to ensure that it produces a lasting improvement in living standards. Ahead of enlargement, the Commission planned several measures, such as the review of the European centre for managing change at the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.
15. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the promotion of health and safety at work will also be fundamental priorities in the second half of the implementation of the Social Policy Agenda.
Combating all forms of exclusion and discrimination
16. The principles of solidarity and social inclusion form the basis for a high level of social cohesion, as was recognised by the European Heads of State and Government at the Lisbon Council. Moreover, enlargement will make the issues of social exclusion and poverty even more urgent.
17. The Commission is therefore continuing its integrated, overall approach, which takes account of poverty and exclusion. The planned measures are focused on three main areas: social inclusion, with the review of the poverty and social exclusion indicators, planned for 2004, the action plan on the integration of people with disabilities, planned for 2005, and the future strategy for combating discrimination, also planned for 2005.
Modernisation of social protection
18. The modernisation of the European social model makes it necessary to improve social protection in order to respond to the move towards a knowledge-based economy and o the change in social and family structures. This modernisation should draw on the role of social protection as a productive factor.
19. The Commission takes the view that greater cooperation in the area of social protection also requires increasing involvement of all players concerned at all levels, and it proposes the open method of coordination in order to strengthen the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy. The use of this open method will make it possible to move gradually towards a simplified procedure of social protection and an exchange of good practices on issues in order to improve coordination in the area of healthcare.
Equality between women and men
20. The Commission considers that equal opportunities between women and men must be promoted across the board in the Social Policy Agenda and be supplemented by a number of specific measures.
21. The initiatives announced for the second half of the implementation of the Social Policy Agenda include a draft Directive on equal treatment and the elimination of discrimination for 2003, a report to the spring Council (2004) on progress towards gender equality and the proposal to revitalise the framework strategy on gender equality, planned for 2005.
Strengthening the social side of enlargement and of the external relations of the European Union
22. Enlargement and international relations constitute a challenge and an opportunity for Community action in the social field. It is therefore necessary to develop the sharing of experience and strategies with the candidate countries and to promote an integrated economic and social agenda that corresponds to the European approach in international bodies.
23. In order to optimise preparation for the accession of the ten new countries, from 2003 the Commission stepped up the monitoring of legislative and political developments in these countries. Their participation in Community programmes and agencies was to provide good preparation, familiarising the future new Member States with the Union's policies and working methods.
24. As far as international cooperation is concerned, the Commission takes the view that the social dimension should be actively promoted in the EU's international relations, cooperation with international organisations, such as the UN or the OECD, and bilateral cooperation.
25. The mid-term review of the Social Policy Agenda provides a unique opportunity to reflect on past work and to direct the key measures towards the Union of 25 Member States, based on the conviction that the preservation of the European corpus of social rules and regulations is a major priority. For the post-2005 period, the Commission has set up a high-level group of experts [PDF ] with a remit to study the future of social and employment policy in the EU.