Brussels, 27 February 2013
Council of Employment, Social Policy and Health Ministers, 28 February, Brussels
The EU's Council of Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Ministers will meet on 28 February in Brussels. It will be devoted only to Employment and Social Affairs issues. It will be chaired by the Irish Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton and the Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton. The Commission will be represented by European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor.
The Council will be preceded by a working breakfast with the Member States' Ministers, Commissioner Andor and the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy on the Social Dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union. Discussions will be on the basis of the letter of 1st February 2013 sent by Mr Von Rompuy to the Irish Presidency suggesting to discuss this issue in the Employment and Social Policy, Economic and Financial Affairs and Competitiveness Councils. Following the Commission's November 2012 EMU Blueprint (see MEMO/12/909) and the 27 February debate in the Commission on the social dimension of a deep and genuine EMU, Commissioner Andor will underline that deepening the social dimension of EMU is necessary not only from an economic point of view, but also for the sustainability and legitimacy of a genuine Economic and Monetary Union. He will emphasise that coordination and surveillance of employment and social policies should be reinforced within EMU governance and convergence in these areas promoted.
Council Recommendation on Establishing a Youth Guarantee
The Council is due to reach political agreement on the Commission's proposal for a Council Recommendation which was presented in December 2012 (see IP/12/1311, MEMO/12/938, SPEECH/12/910, Video). The proposal calls on Member States to introduce the Youth Guarantee to ensure that all young people up to age 25 receive a quality offer of a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education.
The proposed Recommendation gives Member States a clear benchmark and precise guidelines for establishing their own Youth Guarantee scheme on the basis of six axes: establishing strong partnerships with all stakeholders, ensuring early intervention and activation to avoid young people becoming NEETs (not in employment, education or training), taking supportive measures that will enable labour market integration, making full use of EU funding to that end, assessing and continuously improving the Youth Guarantee, and implementing the scheme rapidly.
The Commission is ready and willing to make available substantial financial contributions from the European Social Fund and other EU structural funds. At the same time, the Commission confirmed in the 2013 Annual Growth Survey adopted in late 2012 that Youth Guarantee schemes are key measures that should be prioritised within growth-friendly fiscal consolidation. For the Commission, investment in Youth Guarantee schemes is crucial expenditure if we want to preserve our future growth potential.
The Youth Guarantee has already proven its worth in certain countries such as in Finland, Sweden and Austria. In Finland, a first evaluation recently published by Eurofound shows that 83.5% of young job seekers received a successful intervention within three months of registering as unemployed in 2011. The Finnish youth guarantee notably accelerated the pace at which personalised plans were drawn up and resulted in a reduction in youth unemployment. In Sweden Eurofound indicated that 68% of all participants below the age of 25 had some sort of employment 90 days after they completed a New-Start-Job.
Commissioner Andor will urge Members States to implement the Youth Guarantee as soon as possible, preferably as from the start of the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework. He will add that an agreement on this Recommendation is even more important considering the support given by the February 7-8 European Council through the agreement on 6 billion euros for a new Youth Employment Initiative in the context of the Multi-annual Financial Framework. Commissioner Andor will underline that these funds should be in addition to the financial measures Member States were planning and not replace existing measures.
The Commissioner will also stress that the implementation of Youth Guarantee schemes in individual Member States has been integrated in the Commission policy guidance to Member States in the 2013 Annual Growth Survey. Implementation will be monitored through the European Semester and possibly addressed through Country Specific Recommendations.
Some 5.5 million young people on the labour market (more than 1 in 5) cannot find a job, and 7.5 million young people aged 15-24 are NEETs - not in employment, education or training. The economic cost of not integrating young people into labour market has been estimated by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) at over €150 billion per year, or 1.2% of EU GDP. Some countries, such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and Poland, are paying 2% or more of their GDP. Avoiding these economic costs now and in the future outweighs by far the fiscal costs of the proposed Youth Guarantee.
Social Investment Package
Commissioner Andor will present to the Council the Social Investment Package (see IP/13/125, SPEECH/13/141, MEMO/13/117 and MEMO/13/118) adopted by the Commission on 20 February. He will stress to Ministers that the Package responds to the need for modernising the welfare states, gives guidance to Member States on better performing active inclusion strategies and a more efficient and more effective use of social budgets.
The Package focusses on:
Ensuring that social protection systems respond to people's needs at critical moments throughout their lives. More needs to be done to reduce the risk of social breakdown and so avoid higher social spending in the future.
Simplified and better targeted social policies, to provide adequate and sustainable social protection systems. Some countries have better social outcomes than others despite having similar or lower budgets, demonstrating that there is room for more efficient social policy spending.
Upgrading active inclusion strategies in the Member States. Affordable quality childcare and education, prevention of early school leaving, training and job-search assistance, housing support and accessible health care are all policy areas with a strong social investment dimension.
The Package includes a Commission Recommendation against child poverty, calling for an integrated approach to child-friendly social investment. Investing in children and young people is especially effective in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and social exclusion and improving people's opportunities later in life. The urgent need for such an approach has been underlined by the latest Eurostat figures on child poverty – 27% of children under 18 in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2011 (see STAT/13/28).
The Package also offers guidance to Member States on how best to use EU financial support, notably from the European Social Fund, to implement the outlined objectives.
The Commission will closely monitor the performance of individual Member States' social protection systems through the European Semester and formulate, where necessary, Country Specific Recommendations.
The Commissioner will invite the Council to take a position on the presented Package with a view to adopting conclusions at the next Council of Employment and Social Affairs Ministers in June.
European Semester 2013
The Council will hold a policy debate on the European Semester 2013. The Irish Presidency will invite Ministers to reflect on their experiences from three years of economic coordination in the framework of the European Semester, in particular when adopting and implementing labour market reforms through flexible working arrangements, the alignment of wages with productivity, the stepping up of active labour market policies and measures to ensure the effectiveness of social protection systems and to tackle poverty. The reform of pensions systems has been part of the annual recommendations and the main challenges as well as the impact of the reforms undertaken so far need to be assessed.
At this occasion, the Council is due to adopt conclusions on the 2013 Annual Growth Survey (AGS), jointly prepared by the Employment Committee (EMCO) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC), and the Joint Employment Report (see MEMO/12/914). The Council is also due to agree on a general approach on a proposal for a Council Decision on Guidelines for the Employment Policies of the Member States. Finally, the Council will endorse key conclusions and policy messages prepared by the SPC on the social situation and trends to watch in the EU.
Commissioner Andor will underline that the Conclusions reflect the priorities set out in the 2013 AGS. He will call for efforts at national and EU level this year to continue to focus on the five priorities identified in the 2012 AGS (pursuing differentiated growth-friendly fiscal consolidation, restoring normal lending to the economy, promoting growth and competitiveness for today and tomorrow, tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis and modernising public administration) and their implementation. In particular, the Commissioner will urge Member States to preserve essential social safety nets and to ensure that fiscal objectives are reconciled with employment and social ones. Institutional guarantees for an adequate level of social protection for all European citizens must be put in place. Commissioner Andor will indicate that the Commission agrees that the Council's Employment Policy Guidelines should remain unchanged for 2013 and focus should now be put on their implementation. Finally, Commissioner Andor will welcome the key conclusions of the SPC on the social situation and trends to watch in the EU.
The Ministers are due to discuss "EU Pensions Rights to Support Labour Mobility" over a working lunch. Discussions under the Cyprus Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2012 have confirmed that there is support for EU-level action on the acquisition and preservation of supplementary pension rights. A Directive was originally proposed in 2005, and after the European Parliament had adopted its opinion, an amended proposal was submitted by the Commission in 2007. However, the Council has not yet reached agreement on the proposal. The Irish Presidency will seek to get to a consensus on a number of issues under discussion.
Tripartite Social Summit
The Irish Presidency will inform the Ministers on the preparation of the Tripartite Social Summit scheduled for 14 March. This is the yearly meeting between the EU institutions and social partners, ahead of the Spring European Council.
Commissioner Andor will recall the importance of the Tripartite Social Summit as a forum for discussions with the EU-level representatives of trade unions and employers.
The chairs of the Employment Committee and Social Policy Committee will inform the Council on their Work Programmes for 2013. The Employment Committee chair will also provide feedback on the Committee's meeting on 1st February with EU-level representatives of trade unions and employers on wage developments.
Commissioner Andor will provide the Council with the state of play on the transitional arrangements for Romanian and Bulgarian workers, who will enjoy full rights to free movement from 1 January 2014, and on the outcome of the social partners' negotiations on the review of the Working Time Directive.