EUROPEAN SOCIAL AGENDA
European Social Agenda.
||28 November 2000|
|Forwarded to the Council:
||29 November 2000|
|Deposited in Parliament:
||19 December 2000|
||Education and Employment
|Basis of consideration:
||EM and Minister's letter of 16 December 2000
|Previous Committee Report:
||None; but see (21420) 9964/00: HC 23-xxvi (1999-2000), paragraph 1 (26 July 2000)
|Discussed in Council:
||7-9 December 2000
13.1 The Commission Communication, Social
on which this document draws, was debated in Standing Committee
C in November 2000. Our sister Committee in the House of Lords
has recently published a report on the Communication.
13.2 At the end of November, the Minister
for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities at the
Department for Education and Employment (the Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell)
wrote twice to inform us of developments. In her second letter
(dated 30 November), she told us that the Employment and Social
Policy Council had agreed a substantially revised text which would
be submitted to the Nice European Council. She hoped to be able
to provide a full Explanatory Memorandum on the final text after
the European Council. We replied, welcoming the agreement, but
expressing disappointment that the last-minute negotiation of
the text had prevented us from seeing it before the Council.
13.3 The Minister has now written to us
again, enclosing an Explanatory Memorandum on the text adopted
The Minister's letter
13.4 In her letter of 16 December, the Minister
addresses our concerns about the scrutiny process. She says:
"I too am concerned
about the impact on the scrutiny process of the last minute negotiation
of texts, which has become increasingly prevalent. To take the
example of the recent discussions of the Social Policy Agenda
at the Employment and Social Policy Council on 27-28 November,
ministers were only presented with the final text a matter of
hours before agreement was reached. This obviously leaves no time
for consultation of any kind...
"To draw positive conclusions from the recent
negotiations of the Social Policy Agenda I felt that the scrutiny
hearings conducted in both Houses on the 1st November were extremely
helpful. I was able to approach the discussions at the Employment
and Social Policy Council with a full appreciation of Parliament's
concerns about the general direction of the Social Policy Agenda,
and I hope that these were reflected in the agreement which was
13.5 The Minister points out that the text
attached to her letter of 30 November was the final version which
went to the Nice Council, and that we did, therefore, see it in
advance. She apologises if the timing made it difficult for us
to consider the text fully, while making it clear that the problem
was not of the UK's making.
The final text
13.6 The final text is differently structured
from the Commission Communication. In her Explanatory Memorandum,
the Minister tells us that the document aims to establish a framework
and six guiding principles for EU action on social policy over
the next six years. She helpfully summarises the contents as follows:
"The framework is established
in the preamble to the document and sets out:
" Policy Guidelines laid down
by the European Council which focus on achieving the Lisbon
goals on employment and the knowledge based economy.
" Principles for Modernising and
Improving the European social model in which the productive
role of social policy is emphasised alongside the need to generate
social cohesion and to ensure the dynamic interaction of economic,
employment and social polices.
" The Common Challenges which
include achieving full employment; benefiting from technical progress;
developing mobility; taking advantage of economic and monetary
integration; dealing with population ageing; strengthening social
cohesion; making a success of enlargement and affirming the social
dimension of globalisation.
" Implementation arrangements.
"The six guiding principles, which establish
the future direction of EU social policy, are:
"i More and Better Jobs.
"ii Anticipating and capitalising on change
in the working environment by creating a new balance between flexibility
"iii Fighting poverty and all forms of exclusion
and discrimination in order to promote social integration.
"iv Modernising social protection.
"v Promoting gender equality.
"vi Strengthening the social policy aspects
of enlargement and the European Union's external relations.
"These six guiding principles structure a list
of specific proposals which are to be taken forward in due course,
mostly by the Commission. These cover a variety of policy areas
including employment, lifelong learning, health and safety, social
exclusion, equal opportunities and enlargement."
The Government's view
13.7 The Minister had already indicated,
in her letter of 30 November, that the revised text incorporated
all the UK's major amendments. She comments further in the Explanatory
"The Social Policy Agenda
is firmly anchored in the Lisbon framework and is geared to making
the Lisbon goals a reality. The overarching aim of becoming 'the
most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world'
and the Lisbon target of 70% EU employment by 2010 are both prioritised
as headline commitments. Moreover the Agenda includes positive
references to employability, lifelong learning and the need to
meet skills shortages, particularly in ICT,
as important future objectives.
"The specific proposals are varied in nature,
with many reflecting the commitment to Lisbon. There is scope
to advance a number of the issues at a national level through
our employment action plans, and we will seek to ensure that this
activity is mirrored throughout the EU. There are a number of
proposals to take forward legislation. However, we negotiated
hard and successfully to ensure that the Agenda contained no commitment
to new labour market regulation. The labour market proposals to
which there is reference are either already in force or under
negotiation. The Government will continue to uphold the national
interest in any ongoing negotiations."
13.8 The Minister also tells us that the
Commission will submit an annual scoreboard of progress made in
implementing measures for each Spring European Council.
13.9 It is good to know that the Minister
shares our concerns about the impact on the scrutiny process of
the last-minute negotiation of texts. In this instance, while
it is true that we were sent a copy of the final text before the
Nice Council, we were unable to consider it, not only because
of the timing, but also because it was not formally deposited.
However, we accept that the problem was not of the Minister's
making, and we are grateful for her efforts to keep us informed
13.10 We remain concerned, however, about
the process, especially as the final text is so different from
the Commission Communication which Parliament debated. In this
case, it appears to us a distinct improvement, both in structure
and in content. On other occasions, the outcome might not be as
13.11 We clear the document.
19 (21420) 9964/00; see headnote to this paragraph. Back
EU Social Policy Agenda: 20th
Report from the Select Committee on the European Union, HL 128
and Communications Technologies. Back