Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


18 Employment guidelines

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; recommendation for debate in European Committee B made on 24 March 2015, along with the draft Council Recommendation on broad guidelines for economic policies of Member States and the EU (Council document 6813/15 + ADD 1), recommendation for debate rescinded; further information requested
Document detailsProposal for a Council Decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States
Legal baseArticle 148(2) TFEU; —; QMV
Department

Document numbers

Work and Pensions

(36703), 6144/15 + ADD 1, COM(15) 98

Summary and Committee's conclusions

18.1 The EU Treaties provide that Member States are to regard their economic policies and the promotion of employment as "a matter of common concern".[ 170] In March, our predecessors considered a proposal for a Council Recommendation establishing four broad guidelines for Member States' economic policies,[ 171] as well as this proposal for a Council Decision setting out four further guidelines for Member States' employment policies. As each set of guidelines has a distinct legal base in the EU Treaties, they have been proposed as separate legal instruments which are, however, "intrinsically interconnected".[ 172] Together, they constitute the new "integrated guidelines" which are intended to provide the framework for policy coordination within the annual European Semester and to underpin the remaining years of the EU's Europe 2020 Strategy for jobs and growth.

18.2 The Government noted that the guidelines were not legally binding and considered their content to be broadly acceptable, whilst highlighting concerns about the use of "inappropriately prescriptive language on labour taxation and Member States' social policies".[ 173]

18.3 Our predecessor Committee recommended that the proposed new integrated guidelines, covering economic and employment policies, as well as a number of additional documents relating to the 2015 European Semester, should be debated together ahead of the June Employment and Social Policy (EPSCO) Council (in the case of the employment guidelines) and the European Council (the remaining documents).[ 174]

18.4 The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel) now writes to inform us that, as anticipated, the EPSCO Council agreed a general approach on the employment guidelines at its meeting on 18 June.

18.5 Elsewhere in this Report, we explain that it has not been possible for the Government to schedule a debate ahead of the June EPSCO and European Council meetings.[ 175] As the substance of the proposed new integrated guidelines on economic and employment policies has now been agreed, we rescind our predecessor Committee's debate recommendation.

18.6 We would, nevertheless, welcome further information on the outcome of the June EPSCO Council. The Minister tells us that the Council agreed "a de facto general approach" on the employment guidelines set out in the proposed Council Decision. Although no formal vote was called, she notes that "it was clear that, as we did not have scrutiny clearance, the UK would abstain on this proposal". We ask the Minister to clarify whether the UK did, in fact, abstain and how the UK's abstention was expressed, given that her Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament on the outcome of the Council makes no reference to a UK abstention or to a Parliamentary scrutiny reserve. We also ask her to provide us with a copy of the general approach agreed by the Council.

18.7 Pending the Minister's reply, the proposed Council Decision remains under scrutiny.

Full details of the documents: Proposal for a Council Decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States: (36703), 6144/15 + ADD 1, COM(15) 98.

Background

18.8 The employment guidelines have to be agreed each year by a Decision of the Council and must remain consistent with the broad economic guidelines. They form an important part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, agreed by the European Council in March 2010, and the European Semester, an EU-level framework for coordinating and assessing Member States' structural reforms and fiscal/budgetary policy and for monitoring and addressing macroeconomic imbalances. The proposed new employment guidelines place particular emphasis on addressing the social impact of the economic and financial crisis through the effective functioning of labour markets and social welfare systems. Our earlier Reports, listed at the end of this chapter, provide more detailed information on the content of the proposed broad economic guidelines and the employment guidelines, as well as the Government's position.

18.9 In its Explanatory Memorandum on the proposed Council Decision, the Government noted that the guidelines were not legally binding and were intended to "frame the scope" of Member States' national employment policies. Whilst describing their content as "broadly acceptable", the Government suggested that some of the language used on labour taxation and Member States' social policies was "inappropriately prescriptive".[ 176]

The Minister's letter of 2 July 2015

18.10 The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel) explains that the proposed employment guidelines were considered by various EU-level Committees during March — the Employment Committee, the Social Protection Committee and the Education Committee — as well as by the Public Employment Services Network and by EU social partners (employers and trade unions). She continues:

    "During these rounds of negotiations, we managed to relax the language on labour taxation and on Member States' social policies. Other minor changes were also agreed, for example, including a reference to Public Employment Services, removing redundancies or changing the order of the text to make it flow better. All of these changes were in keeping with UK policies and were agreeable to us."

18.11 The Minister notes that these changes were agreed by the Employment Committee on 31 March and discussed at Council working group meetings in April and May. Further changes, all broadly acceptable to the UK, were made to the recitals to the proposed Decision. The Minister continues:

    "On 10 June, the Employment Guidelines were discussed at COREPER, where there was consensus to include a broad recital that describes that labour market reforms should consider Member States' practices and circumstances, which is agreeable to the UK.

    "Finally, the Employment Guidelines were scheduled for general approach at the Employment and Social Policies Council (EPSCO) on 18 June. Due to the electoral period, it has not been possible to schedule a debate as requested by your Committee. It was clear that, as we did not have scrutiny clearance, the UK would abstain on this proposal. No formal vote was called. As no Member States raised any objections to the proposal, the Presidency concluded that there was a de facto general approach."

18.12 The Minister expects the Employment Guidelines to be formally adopted at a future Council, once the European Parliament has published an opinion on the Guidelines (expected in early July). She adds:

    "We will continue to hold a parliamentary scrutiny reserve and abstain within Council until a debate has been held."

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-ninth Report HC 219-xxxvii (2014-15), chapter 2 (24 March 2015). See also our Thirty-seventh Report HC 219-xxxvi (2014-15), chapter 2 (18 March 2015) concerning the draft Council Recommendation on the broad economic policy guidelines is relevant.


170   Articles 121 and 146(2) TFEU. Back

171   See our Thirty-seventh Report listed at the end of this chapter for further details. Back

172   See p.2 of the Commission's explanatory memorandum accompanying the draft Decision. Back

173   See para 20 of the Explanatory Memorandum dated 17 March 2015 submitted by the then Minister for Employment (Esther McVey). Back

174   (36690), 6632/15; (36691), -, SWD(15) 47: see Thirty-sixth Report HC 219-xxxv (2014-15), chapter 2 (11 March 2015); (36712) 6813/15 + ADD 1: see Thirty-seventh Report HC 219-xxxvi (2014-15), chapter 2 (18 March 2015); (36703) 6144/15 + ADD 1: see Thirty-ninth Report HC 219-xxxvii (2014-15), chapter 2 (24 March 2015). Back

175   See chapter 77 of this Report on the European Semester 2015: Country Specific Recommendations. Back

176   See the Explanatory Memorandum dated 17 March 2015 submitted by the then Minister for Employment (Esther McVey).  Back


 
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Prepared 30 July 2015