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European Employment Task Force (2003)
Established in line with the conclusions of the Presidency of the Brussels European Council in March 2003, the European Employment Task Force was created with a view to carrying out an independent in-depth examination of the employment situation and identifying the practical reforms necessary to achieve the objectives of the European Employment Strategy (EES). It concluded its work, carried out between April and November 2003, with a report which sounds the alarm on European performance in the field of employment and underlines the urgent need for the Member States to intensify structural reforms in order to strengthen adaptability, the labour supply, and investment in human resources.
The Task Force was established to identify the most urgent measures in the field of employment in a European Union of 25 Member States. Its report entitled " Jobs, Jobs, Jobs - Creating more employment in Europe " supports the creation of the Joint Report 2003/2004 of the Commission and the Council on employment.
According to the Task Force's report, promoting growth is no longer sufficient and there is a need for structural reforms to make labour markets more flexible and more attractive. However, instead of laying down new objectives or modifying existing ones, the report recommends getting the EU Member States to face their responsibilities when employment performance is not satisfactory. Instead of trying to define the social and financial costs of reforms, it is a question of quantifying the consequences of failing to act. In order to bridge the 'large gap' which separates Europe from the objectives enshrined in the Lisbon European Council, the Member States should promote sustainable employment and productivity growth in the medium- and longer-term and ensure more people in work, working more productively, instead of focusing on the creation of short-term jobs. It is also necessary to make the most of examples of good practices.
The task force's report stresses that to boost employment and productivity, it is necessary to :
- increase adaptability of workers and enterprises: Member States and social partners must increase their capacity to anticipate, trigger and absorb change. Besides, they must reduce administrative and regulatory obstacles to the setting up and management of businesses, by providing better access to finance and offering advisory support to business start-ups. To assist unskilled workers, the task force recommends reducing the non-wage labour costs (employers'contributions) for low-wage earners. Overall wage developments should not exceed productivity growth. Improved property rights and a favourable tax environment, efforts to promote innovation, and networks and partnerships at regional and sectoral level should boost levels of investment in R&D, private but also public, (examples of good practices: Sweden, Denmark and Finland). Member States must also ensure that labour markets are made more flexible by diversifying the types of contracts in order to meet the needs of workers and firms, while providing workers with appropriate levels of security (employment protection and the capacity to remain in work) (examples of good practices: Netherlands and Denmark). Besides, they should encourage temporary work and examine transitions between different statuses, such as work, training, career breaks, etc. ;
- encourage more people to enter the labour market and to stay there: it is a matter a of ending unemployment, inactivity and low pay traps. It is essential to involve unemployed persons and inactive people (guidance, training, etc.). Member States must ensure the integration of women in the labour market (provision of good quality childcare and eldercare, reduction in pay gaps) as well as that of immigrants (promotion of business creation). They should also develop comprehensive active ageing strategies by providing the right legal and financial incentives for older workers (55 to 64 years) to work longer and improve their training opportunities, especially for the low-skilled (examples of good practices: Sweden and Finland);
- invest more in human capital and lifelong learning: it is necessary regularly to update workers' skills and qualifications in the face of technological change, to ensure high levels of initial educational attainment and access to university, and high levels of participation of adults in lifelong learning, especially for the low-skilled (examples of good practices: Denmark, Sweden and Finland). The Member States should also ensure better anticipation of skills' needs and encourage business to invest in training via better cost sharing and the creation of sectoral and regional training funds;
- ensuring effective implementation of reforms through better governance: Member States, in their National Action Plans (NAP), should reaffirm their commitment to the employment objectives, define clear national policies and objectives, backed by appropriate targets and efficient use of public funds. The approach of several Member States of involving their national parliaments, and consulting social partners and civil society as regards the NAPs could become the norm. The participation of the various stakeholders and an information campaign to demonstrate to the general public why reform is necessary are of the essence. The EU must support Member States' efforts by confronting them with their specific strengths and weaknesses and by linking the EU budget more closely to the implementation of the Lisbon objectives.
Employment policy is a matter for the Member States. However, thanks to the open method of coordination (OMC), national employment policies follow joint objectives laid down at European level and apply the structural reforms developed in the employment guidelines.