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Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consummer protection Council , 1-2 December

European Commission - MEMO/03/246   28/11/2003

Other available languages: none

MEMO/03/246

Brussels, 28 November 2003

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consummer protection Council , 1-2 December

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will meet on 1 December.

Employment and Social Policy

The Employment and Social policy points of the Council will be taken on the morning of 1 December. The meeting will be chaired by Italian Minister of Labour Roberto Maroni and Minister for Equal Opportunities Stefania Prestigiacomo. The Commission will be represented by Anna Diamantopoulou, Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs.

    Simplification and Modernisation of Regulation 1408/71

This Council will seek to conclude the bulk of the simplification and modernisation of the regulation for the co-ordination of social security systems. However, there are a few issues left to be resolved, in particular who is responsible for family benefits, health care and pensions for wholly unemployed frontier and seasonal workers.

The Regulation concerns the social security rights - sickness, maternity and paternity benefits, accidents at work and occupational diseases, death grants, unemployment benefits, legal pre-retirements benefits, family benefits, and special non-contributory cash benefits - for European citizens working in or moving to another Member State. It is therefore an essential component of the free movement of European citizens within the European Union.

The European Council has set the deadline for the conclusion of this exercise as the end of 2003. Ministers started the process of improving this Regulation in 1999.

The aim is two-fold

  • on the one hand the Regulation needs to be simplified so it can be better understood by beneficiaries themselves and by the officials administrating the rules of social security rights.

  • On the other, the system needs to be modernised to take into account the experience gathered since the entry into force of the Regulation in 1972, and also rulings of the European Court of Justice and developments in Member States' own legislation.

An important kick-start to the negotiations was the agreement under Belgian presidency on a set of parameters. The European Council of Barcelona in March 2002 gave the Council a deadline until the end of 2003 to complete the modernisation and simplification exercise.

Successive Presidencies (Spain, Denmark, Greece) have focussed on the discussion of the different parts of the text. As the Regulation concerns in a very concrete manner rights of citizens and at the same time have a direct impact on the budgets of the Member States, discussions have often been difficult but always conducted in a positive atmosphere and Ministers have been able to find constructive solutions.

The most important improvements of the new Regulation are:

All European union nationals who are covered by the social security legislation of a Member State will be protected. This means that not only employed, employed and the self-employed, civil servants, students and pensioners will be covered but also non active persons who are covered by a residence-based scheme. It clarifies and simplifies the rules as to which legislation is applicable in cross border situations

It reinforces the principle of equal treatment between all citizens of the European Union.

It guarantees all European Union citizens who stay temporarily in another Member State access to health care which becomes medically necessary during their stay

It will also apply to legal pre-retirement schemes: this not only means that beneficiaries of such schemes will be guaranteed their pre-retirement benefits when residing in another Member State, but also that they will be covered for health care and will receive family benefits when residing in another Member State.

It foresees increased co-operation and mutual assistance among Member States' institutions to the benefit of the citizens.

The details for implementing this Regulation will be laid down an Implementing Regulation, for which the Commission will present a proposal next year

    Employment Task Force Report and Commission's Growth Initiative

The main debate over lunch will be the presentation by Mr Wim Kok, Chairman of the European Employment Task Force, of the results of the Task Force. In this context Ministers will also discuss the Commission's Growth Initiative and its employment implications.

    Immigration

The Council will also adopt conclusions on immigration building on their debate on the last Council, looking at the role of the employment process in relation to current and future immigration flows. Employment is seen as a key element for successful integration.

    European Year of People with Disabilities

Ministers will also adopt a Resolution on the European Year for the Disabled, welcoming the Commission's Communication on future action, including a strong message on the need to implement rapidly the current anti-discrimination legislation in Member States.

    Equal treatment

The Commissioner will also present the Commission proposal for a Directive on equal treatment of men and women in the provision of and access to goods and services (see IP/03/1501).

Other issues

Other issues to be discussed by the Council include structural indicators, a decision on the social protection committee, follow-up on Beijing indicators. Italian Presidency will report on the conference on Corporate Social Responsibility and the results of gender mainstreaming in the Competitiveness Council.

Consumer protection

The Council will deal with the consumer points on Monday afternoon, 1 December.

    Framework for financing consumer activities (TM)

The Council is expected to adopt a Decision on the legal framework for financing consumer activities for the period 2004-2007. The previous framework, Decision 283/1999/EC, expires on 31 December. If the new framework is adopted, the annual budget of €18 million to consumer policy actions in the current 15 EU Member States would target financing capacity building actions and training to consumer organisations to help them contribute effectively to EU policy development. The new framework would also give a high priority to actions that will accelerate the application of EU consumer protection laws in the new Member States, and to actions that will contribute to the integration of consumer interests in other EU policies. The annual budget would be adapted to take account of Enlargement once the EU's budget for 2004 is adopted by Parliament and Council. As well as being open to organisations from all 25 Member States of the enlarged EU the programme would also be open to Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.

    Administrative consumer protection cooperation (TM)

Ministers will have a first debate on the Commission's proposal from July this year for a Regulation on cooperation between national authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws (see IP/03/1067). The regulation will link up national watchdogs and enable them to take co-ordinated action against rogue traders who abuse the freedom of the EU's Internal Market in order to deceive consumers. The regulation will remove existing cross-border barriers to information exchange and cooperation and empowers enforcement authorities to seek and obtain action from their counterparts in other Member States.

    Safety of services for consumers (TM)

Ministers are expected to adopt a Council Resolution on the safety of services for consumers. The Resolution addresses the main issues mentioned in a report the Commission adopted in June 2003. Research carried out by the Commission highlighted gaps in the availability of data on service safety and risks. Systematic data collection and accident monitoring is limited to a few sectors like transport and health. For other sectors, like services related to tourism, sports and leisure activities, data are scarce and not detailed enough to interpret with any certainty. Consequently, in a number of service sectors, there is not enough quantitative data available to carry out a proper risk assessment, to compare risk levels in different countries, or to identify gaps and weaknesses in the existing national risk management systems. The report therefore suggested the introduction of a legislative framework aimed at monitoring and supporting national consumer policies. The tools which are foreseen are: procedure for an exchange of information, systematic collection and assessment of data on risks and procedures for setting European standards. The Council Resolution would endorse this approach.

Health

The Council will deal with the health points on Tuesday, 2 December.

    Healthy lifestyles (TM)

The Italian Council Presidency will propose draft Council Conclusions on healthy lifestyles: education, information and communication. The content of the conclusions is in line with the overall approach of the Public Health Action Programme for 2003-2008 (see IP/03/393). It underlines the need for an integrated approach to foster health. In practice, this will require a strong coordination of actions carried out in the Health Determinants and the Health Information strands of the programme.

    Cancer screening (TM)

Health Ministers are invited to adopt the draft Recommendation on mass cancer screening programmes which the Commission put forward in May this year (see IP/03/657). Cancer kills about one in four people in Europe. The proposed Recommendation calls on EU Member States to implement effective screening programmes for breast cancer, colon cancer and cervical cancer. It outlines best practice guidelines in early detection of these cancers. Though Europe has made good progress in reducing cancer deaths in recent years, significant differences remain between countries. Many thousands of cancer deaths could be avoided each year if best practice in early detection was applied in all Member States.

    ECDC: European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (TM)

The Italian Council Presidency aims to establish a general approach on the Commission proposal for a Regulation establishing a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), pending the adoption of the European Parliament's first reading opinion scheduled for February 2004.

Communicable diseases can pose a significant threat to citizens' health. And they do not respect national frontiers. A disease outbreak in one country can spread across the globe in a matter of hours. Lost time can mean the difference between a small outbreak and a serious epidemic. That is why the Commission wants to substantially reinforce the means to control communicable diseases effectively in Europe. The new Centre, proposed by the Commission in July 2003 (see IP/03/1091 and MEMO/03/155) would mobilise and significantly reinforce the synergies between the existing national centres for disease control. By pooling expertise around Europe it would be able to provide authoritative scientific advice on serious health threats, recommend control measures, allow quick mobilisation of intervention teams and thus enable a rapid and effective EU-wide response.

    International Health Regulations (TM)

The International Health Regulations (IHR) are being revised under the framework of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to cover all public health emergencies of international concern. The Commission adopted a Communication in September 2003 (see IP/03/1282) supporting the WHO's proposals. The Commission also endorses the WHO's proposals for international cooperation on all major public health events of international concern: for example, natural disease outbreaks and deliberate release of chemical or biological pathogens (bio-terrorism), as well as food safety threats. At present the IHR covers only three diseases: cholera, plague and yellow fever. Outbreaks or incidents of these three diseases must be notified to WHO and control measures taken at ports, airports and land borders.

The Commission plans to develop a common EU negotiating position on those aspects of the IHR which falli within the EU's competence. Ministers are expected to adopt a Council Decision which would pave the way for the Community to participate fully in the IHR revision process.

    Nutritional and health claims on food (TM)

A progress report prepared by the Council secretariat on the Commission's proposal for a Regulation on nutrition and health claims made on foods (see IP/03/1022) will be discussed by Health Ministers. As consumers have become increasingly concerned about what they eat and how this affects their health, the food industry has responded by providing more detailed nutrition labelling and often making claims about the beneficial effects of certain foods. The existing EU rules on labelling and nutrition labelling, which do not define conditions for the use of nutrition claims and do not allow health claims to be made, are often not properly enforced. Consumers can therefore be misled by claims that have not been properly substantiated. The proposed Regulation will give legal security and address these issues by specifying the conditions for the use of nutrition and health claims, prohibiting certain claims and scientifically evaluating the use of claims in relation to the nutritional profile of foods. No food product will as a consequence be prohibited but claims on food products will have a true meaning for the consumer.

    Public Health and pharmaceuticals (TM)

Health Ministers are expected to adopt a Council Resolution on "Pharmaceuticals and Public Health Challenges- Focusing on the Patients" which supports the Commission's Communication published last summer. The general aim of the Resolution is to stress the public health aspects in relation to pharmaceuticals and to complement the Council Conclusions “Reinforcing the competitiveness of the European-based pharmaceutical industry” which were adopted on 22 September by the Competitiveness Council. The key issues in the Resolution are information to patients, relative effectiveness, promotion of scientific and technological research on medicines, an EU system of data on medicines marketed in the EU and the balance between industrial and public health policies in the field of pharmaceuticals.


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