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Brussels, 18 June 2014
Council of Employment, Social Policy and Health Ministers, 19 -20 June 2014, Luxembourg
The EU's Council of Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Ministers will meet on 19 and 20 June in Luxembourg. Key employment and social issues under discussion will be this year's draft Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), the endorsement of a report on adequate social protection for long-term care needs in an aging society by the Social Protection Committee and a progress report on the proposal to establish a Platform against undeclared work. Key health and consumer issues under discussion include regulations on medical advices, the economic crisis and health care, and nutrition and physical activity. The Ministers will also exchange views on health and safety at work over lunch.
The meeting will be chaired on 19 June by Ioannis Vroutsis, Greek Minister of Labour, Social Security and Welfare and on 20 June by Makis Voridis, Greek Minister for Health. The European Commission will be represented by László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health and Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for Consumer Policy.
Employment and social affairs
European Semester 2014: contribution to 26 - 27 June European Council
The Council is due to agree its opinion for submission to the European Council on this year's draft Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs) in the framework of the fourth European Semester within the Europe 2020 strategy (see IP/14/623 and MEMO/14/388). The draft Recommendations are based on detailed analyses of each country's situation and provide guidance on how to boost growth, increase competitiveness and create jobs in 2014-2015. This year, for the first time, the Commission used the scoreboard of key employment and social indicators (see IP/13/893) to draw attention in a number of draft Country Specific Recommendations to reforms needed to support job creation, fight unacceptably high levels of unemployment, strengthen the resilience of labour markets and address rising inequalities and poverty.
This year, the draft CSRs recognise that Member States are making substantial efforts to implement the Youth Guarantee, the key policy that all Member States have committed to implement to tackle youth unemployment. Nevertheless, delivering on the objectives of a Youth Guarantee requires strategic reforms to achieve more successful transitions from school to the labour market. This is reflected in the analyses of all EU Member States and the CSRs for 18 Member States - of which 8 specifically require more decisive action to implement of the Youth Guarantee. Details on each Member State's implementation of the Youth Guarantee are available here.
Commissioner Andor will indicate that work should continue on establishing a political framework for addressing social and employment imbalances in the EU, building on the Scoreboard for key employment and social indicators. He will stress that one of the biggest challenges we face today concerns the growing divergences in the employment and social situations of Member States within the euro area. As a result of the economic crisis, some Member States are witnessing declining household disposable income, rising inequalities, poverty and social exclusion. Improving adequacy and coverage of social safety nets is one of the key areas of this year's CSRs. CSRs also reflect the central and complex role of wage setting mechanisms, including minimum wages, in our economy, both from a macro and micro economic perspective. Commissioner Andor will also urge Member States to implement structural reforms addressing long-term unemployment by stepping up active labour market policies and improving the performance of public employment services.
On pensions reform, he will we call on Member States not to dilute the Commission's recommendations, as the alternatives proposed by a number of Member States could jeopardise the sustainability of pensions systems in the long run. Commissioner Andor will underline that actions must be more ambitious if we are to aim at a successful job-rich recovery and inclusive growth. He will call upon Member States to focus on the effective implementation of the key labour market reforms presented in these draft CSRs.
Ex-ante coordination of major social policy reforms
The Council will discuss a first synthesis report on early discussions of plans for social policy reforms (ex-ante coordination). Commissioner Andor will encourage the continuation of this exercise which contributes to strengthen the European Semester for coordination of economic policy. The ex ante coordination of social policy reforms will allow for better monitoring and surveillance of major reforms as well as improving the design and outcomes of social policy reforms. It supports the strengthening of the social dimension of the EMU by ensuring better integration of economic, employment and social policies.
Report on long-term care
The Council is due to endorse the "Joint Report on adequate social protection for long-term care needs in an ageing society" prepared by the Commission and the Social Protection Committee (the advisory committee comprising representatives of Member States' public administrations dealing with social protection). The report discusses the growing gap between the need for long-term care and the supply of care. It also examines how Member States can organise adequate provision for long-term care needs in a sustainable way, despite the ageing of the population.
The report outlines the need for Member States to move to a proactive policy approach in order to prevent the loss of autonomy for patients, which would in turn reduce care demand. It also seeks to boost efficient, cost-effective care at home and in residential institutions.
Economically, it makes sense for Member States to decrease the risk of dependency on long term care and to ensure adequate access to affordable quality care, as well as support to informal carers.
Commissioner Andor will welcome the Council's endorsement of the report.
European Platform on undeclared work
The Council will take note of a progress report on the Commission's April 2014 proposal for a European Platform to enhance cooperation in the prevention and deterrence of undeclared work (see IP/14/387). The Platform would bring together various national enforcement bodies involved in the fight against undeclared work, a phenomenon that causes serious damage to working conditions, fair competition and public budgets.
Commissioner László Andor will urge Member States to reach an agreement on the proposal as soon as possible. He will stress that, a few weeks after the successful adoption of the Enforcement Directive on the Posting of Workers (see IP/14/542 and MEMO/14/344), this proposal demonstrates how the EU can contribute to solutions for better protecting workers by fighting fraud and abuse. The Commissioner will encourage all Member States to participate in the Platform, given that undeclared work has a cross-border dimension which could have a negative impact on the functioning of the Single Market, as abuses by unscrupulous employers distort competition.
EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020
Over lunch Ministers are due to discuss work-related stress and psychological risks, a key issue in new EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020, adopted on 6 June (see IP/14/641 and MEMO/14/400). This new Framework aims at ensuring that the EU continues to play a leading role in the promotion of high standards for working conditions both within Europe and internationally, in line with the Europe 2020 Strategy.
The Commissioner will recall that the active collaboration of national authorities and social partners is crucial for ensuring the success of this Framework. He will ask Member States to contribute to improving health and safety at work in the EU by actively supporting this Framework.
Commissioner Andor will welcome the report by the Employment Committee (the advisory committee comprising representatives of Member States' public administrations dealing with employment issues) on the implementation of the Youth Guarantee and congratulate Member States for their thorough analysis of progress to implement the Youth Guarantee in the context of the Employment Committee thematic reviews of December 2013 and May 2014, and next at the end of 2014. These periodic reviews by the Employment Committee are very important to take stock of the rapid progress being made and the challenges still faced.
The Employment Committee report underlines the importance of a balance of short-term measures with longer-term reforms to ensure that the structural barriers to school-to-work transition and sustainable labour market integration are removed. This is the heart of the Youth Guarantee, and the only way to have a long-term impact on reducing youth unemployment and inactivity.
The Commission's own assessment of each Member State's implementation of the Youth Guarantee in the context of the European Semester is available here.
International Labour Conference
The Council will discuss the results of the recent 103rd International Labour Conference, held in Geneva from 28 May to 12 June 2014. The key outcome of the Conference was the adoption by the ILO of two new international instruments to combat forced labour, and the approval of important amendments to the ILO's Maritime Labour Convention (see IP/14/669).
Commissioner Andor will stress that, following the adoption of the new international standards against forced labour, the world is better equipped to provide protection and compensation to its victims and develop international cooperation. Regarding the amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), the Commissioner will underline that millions of seafarers and their families will be better protected in case of abandonment and work-related death or long-term disability. He will ask Member States to authorise ratification of the new Protocol and implement the decisions taken as soon as possible.
Health and Consumer Affairs
Regulations on medical devices and in vitro diagnostic medical devices
On 27 September 2012, the Commission submitted to the Council and to the European Parliament a proposal for a Regulation on medical devices and a proposal for a Regulation on in vitro diagnostic medical devices. The Commission considers the adoption of the two Regulations essential to reinforce patient safety and innovation in Europe.
The Council has been discussing these proposals for almost two years. The Greek Presidency has given much priority to the revision of the legislation and the progress made was substantial, but not sufficient to reach a general approach or political agreement at this Council meeting.
Commissioner Mimica will reiterate the Commission’s strong belief that the continued and constructive engagement of all sides is necessary to reach a well-balanced compromise and reinforce trust in the EU regulatory system on medical devices. He will also reaffirm that the Commission stands ready to assist the upcoming Italian Presidency with a view to opening the way to a political agreement in December 2014. This will allow trilogues with the European Parliament to start by the end of this year or at the beginning of next year.
Economic crisis and healthcare – Adoption of Council conclusions
The Greek Presidency proposed Council conclusions on economic crisis and healthcare, following discussion at the Informal Health Council in Athens this April and Council conclusions adopted under the Hungarian and Lithuanian Presidencies. The Commission has already expressed its support when Council called for specific work on effectiveness, accessibility, and resilience factors. In fact, these three main areas were identified in the recent Commission’s Communication on health systems, and many points in the EU agenda presented in the Communication are tackled in these conclusions, including health systems performance assessment, patient safety, health workforce planning, and cost-effective use of medicines. Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg, is expected to also welcome the invitations addressed to the Commission, in particular to support the exchange of information between Member States on universal and equitable access to care pharmaceutical and medical device expenditures.
Nutrition and physical activity – Adoption of Council conclusions
The Greek Presidency put forward Council conclusions on nutrition and physical activity following the Presidency conference in Athens in February. They are in line with the 2007 Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity-related Health Issues and with the 2014 Action Plan on Childhood Obesity, which they explicitly welcome. The Commissioner for Health is expected to welcome the conclusions recalling their timeliness as already more than half of European adults are overweight or obese, there is a generation of children with high prevalence of obesity and a high number of elderly suffer from malnutrition. Commissioner Borg will welcome the Council conclusions stress on the need for an integrated approach nutrition-physical activity, the need to reduce children's exposure to the marketing of foods high in saturated fat, added sugars and salt, and the focus on malnutrition The Commission acknowledges the political backing by the Council both as a support for the work already done and as a call for more effective action.
Joint procurement of medical countermeasures – Information from the Commission
The Commission will provide a state of play of the approval process of the Joint Procurement Agreement and inform Ministers of the next steps. The Joint Procurement Agreement was approved by the Commission on 10 April 2014. It defines the arrangements governing any joint procurement of medical countermeasures, the rules that govern the choice of the procedure, the assessment of the tenders, and the award of the contract. Participation in the Joint Procurement Agreement does not create any budgetary commitment for the Member States. Commissioner Borg is expected to encourage Member States to seize the momentum and seal the deal by signing this important Joint Procurement Agreement. The signing ceremony of the Agreement will take place directly after the Council meeting. The Commission further encourages Member States to rapidly nominate their representatives for the Joint Procurement Agreement Steering Committee which will discuss implementation and the first vaccines/medicines to be procured jointly.
Plans for the introduction of standardised packaging for tobacco products – Information from the Irish delegation
Ireland tabled this point to provide information on the introduction of standardised packaging for all tobacco products sold in Ireland. On 10 June 2014, Ireland announced the publication of a bill to introduce standardised packaging which is due to go through the legislative procedure with effective application intended around May 2016. If passed, Ireland will be the first country in the EU to introduce plain packaging legislation and the third country worldwide (after Australia and New Zealand). Ireland has circulated an information note on the subject to the delegations.
High price of medicines against hepatitis C – Information from the French delegation
The French delegation would like to draw the attention of the Ministers to the high price of the new treatment for hepatitis C which in light of the number of patients leads to an important financial burden for health systems. France will therefore propose to Member States to adopt a Joint Statement that emphasises the industry’s responsibility towards public health and sustainability of public expenditure, and calls for better coordination and information sharing among Member States.
Work programme of the incoming Presidency – Information from the Italian delegation
The incoming Presidency will inform delegations of its work programme.