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What has social Europe achieved so far?

European Commission - MEMO/08/466   02/07/2008

Other available languages: FR

MEMO/08/466

Brussels, 2 July 2008

What has social Europe achieved so far?

More and better jobs
Almost 6.5 million new jobs were created in the EU during the last two years and another 5 million jobs are forecast by 2009. Unemployment is now under 7% – its lowest level since the mid-1980s. This goes to show that the EU's strategy to boost growth and jobs in Europe is working.

In particular, more and more jobs are being created in services and construction, while more women and older people are entering the labour market – two of the groups for which the EU has set special employment targets. Of the 12 million new jobs created since 2000, 7.5 million – well over half – went to women.

Working abroad

Being a citizen of an EU country entitles you to live and work in any other EU country under the same terms and conditions as that country’s own nationals. EURES – the European jobs portal – helps people find a job in another European country and is supported by a network of over 300 specialist mobility advisers.

The portal welcomes over 1 million visitors every month consulting some 1.7 million job vacancies, and also provides information on labour market developments and living and working conditions in the different countries covered. Around 310,000 jobseekers have registered their CVs and 16,460 employers regularly use the service to recruit.

In addition, every year the European Job Days bring together jobseekers and employers at more than 500 events, such as job fairs, workshops and cultural happenings in over 200 cities all over Europe. These events take place simultaneously in September or October.

Easy access to medical treatment when travelling

The free European Health Insurance Card gives peace of mind to over 160 million people, making sure they get the treatment they have a right to if they fall ill or have an accident when abroad.

It was introduced in 2004 and can now be used in some 30 countries. It helps simplify procedures for getting medical care if disaster strikes when you are in another European country. It is totally free and replaces all the old forms that people used to have to arrange for and carry abroad. Each country’s card shares the same design so that medical staff can easily recognise it. The European Health Insurance Card gives every citizen the right to be treated as a national of the host member states, but it does not replace travel insurance.

The EU investing in people

The European Social Fund (ESF) is the EU's main tool for investing in people. Set up when the EU was launched, it now represents around 10% of the EU budget and invests around EUR 10 billion in people's skills every year across the 27 Member States.

Each year, through the ESF, the EU helps some:

  • 2 million unemployed or inactive people move into employment, including an estimated 1.2 million women;
  • 11% of Europe's unemployed move directly into employment;
  • 200,000 socially excluded or disadvantaged people move into employment; and
  • trains 4 million people through lifelong learning to help them adapt to an evolving labour market.

Dealing with globalisation

Globalisation brings new opportunities in terms of economic dynamism, competitiveness and the creation of high-quality jobs. But it can also create difficulties for some sectors or regions. In 2005 the European Union established the European Globalisation adjustment Fund (EGF) to help workers who lose their jobs as a consequence of globalisation. Since 2007 the EU has spent almost EUR 22 million to help 7,224 workers in different Member States. They found other jobs either through retraining, founding start-ups or moving to areas with better job opportunities thanks to money from the EGF.

Social security coverage abroad

The organisation and financing of social protection systems – such as pensions, unemployment benefits and family benefits – is a responsibility of each EU country at national level. But the EU coordinates national social security rules in Europe so that people are still covered when they move between countries. This means someone who moves to work in another European country is also covered by the local unemployment benefit scheme should they then lose their job and will also receive a pension once they retire.

The EU provides comprehensive information on people's rights to social security cover in other European countries on dedicated websites, like the EUlisses site on how to claim your pension.

Governments in the EU-27 spent an average of 27.3% of GDP on social protection in 2005, with the highest rate in Sweden (32%) and the lowest in Latvia (12.4%).

Equal treatment of women and men

Gender equality has been a key principle of the EU ever since the Treaty of Rome introduced the principle of equal pay for men and women in 1957, when the EU was set up. Since then, the Union has adopted thirteen laws on gender equality to ensure equal treatment in access to work, training, promotions and working conditions, including equal pay and social security benefits, as well as guaranteed rights to parental leave.

7.5 million of the 12 million new jobs created in the EU since 2000 have been taken by women, who now represent 59% of university graduates.

Fight against discrimination

Around 1 in 3 Europeans say they have witnessed a case of discrimination in the past year and around 1 in 7 say they have personally experienced it.

Under EU legislation, everyone has the right to equal treatment in the workplace whatever their race or ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, or whether or not they have a disability. This protection against discrimination will now be extended to areas outside employment, such as social protection, healthcare, education and access to commercial goods and services for all of these forms of discrimination.

Social partners improving working conditions

European social dialogue – the dialogue between trades unions and employers at EU level – complements the national practices of social dialogue and industrial relations which exist in all Member States. The social partners help to define European social standards and play a vital role in the governance of the EU, while bringing concrete benefits to workers and employers in Europe.

Over recent years, the social partners at European level have negotiated specific agreements to:

  • improve working conditions for seafarers (2008);
  • manage problems of bullying, sexual harassment and physical violence at the workplace (2007);
  • reduce exposure of workers to crystalline silica dust, which can lead to silicosis, a potentially fatal lung condition (2006);
  • manage new forms of work such as telework (2002).

Tackling poverty together

Since the EU launched its system for coordinating national policies to tackle poverty and social exclusion, all 27 Member States have developed multi-annual national action plans. In 2001, only three Member States had such strategies in place.

The EU's involvement encourages high standards based on commonly agreed objectives, while each country can implement flexible policies that acknowledge the different national contexts. Child poverty is an example of an issue that has taken centre stage in all Member States thanks to EU action.

Healthy workplaces

The number of serious and fatal accidents at work has fallen steadily thanks to EU health and safety laws. Over the period of the EU's last health and safety strategy at work (2000-2004), the rate of fatal accidents in the EU-15 countries fell by 17% while the rate of workplace accidents leading to absences of more than three days fell by 20%.

The EU has now launched a new five-year strategy aiming for a further 25% reduction in occupational accidents by 2012.

IP/08/1070: Commission proposes Renewed Social Agenda to empower and help people in 21st century Europe


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