Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Timms MP Minister of State for E-Commerce and Competitiveness Department of Trade and Industry

  Sub-Committee F (Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs) considered these proposals at its meeting on 6 November.

  We note the Government's concerns about the proposed Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment and would be grateful to be informed when the Government has decided, in the light of its consultation, whether to support it.

  As regards the Communication, we noted that the UK's social partner organisations will be fully consulted in the forthcoming assessment of the European Social Fund's contribution to the UK national employment action plan. Does this mean that the Government intends to accept the Commission's recommendation to use part of their funds earmarked for ESF technical assistance to support operations by the social partners?

6 November 2002

Letter from Alan Johnson MP Minister of State for Employment Relations, Industry & the Regions to the Chairman

  The Commons Scrutiny Committee is seeking further information regarding the motivations for replacing the Standing Committee on Employment with Tripartite Social Summit. I thought it would be useful for you to be aware of the following comments.

  The impetus for change in the structure of forum for Employment policy debate came from social partners, and was supported by both European Commission and European Council. In the "Joint Contribution by the Social Partners to the Laeken European Council", published on 7 December 2001, the social partners suggested a Tripartite Social Summit, bringing together the troika, the Commission President and a restricted delegation of social partners, and that this should replace the Standing Committee on Employment. This demand was both acknowledged and agreed in the Presidency's conclusions on the Laeken Council.

  The tasks laid down in the 1970 decision, and amended in 1998, to establish Standing Committee on Employment, "to ensure . . . that there shall be continuous dialogue, joint action and consultation between the Council . . . Commission and the two sides of industry . . .", are still relevant today. However, the social partners consider that the operations, the membership, the working methods, and the use to which its results are put, are out-of-date. In particular, it was not synchronised with other tripartite mechanisms, such as the Macroeconomic Dialogue, nor was it linked effectively to the delivery of the Lisbon strategy, which is the focus of the Spring Economic Councils. The social partners broadly welcome TSS as both beneficial and timely. CBI follow UNICE in considering that dismantling SCE implies finding alternative channels between Employment and Social Affairs Council and social partners, acknowledging that this can be done without a formal council decision. UNICE also requests an additional dialogue on education and training. CEEP UK registers specific disaccord with their omission from the technical co-ordination of the employers' delegation. TUC warmly welcome tripartism at European level, reserving a degree of comment until proposals are further defined.

  Clarification of certain technical and procedural issues is currently being pursued at working party in conjunction with the Council Legal Services.

26 November 2002

Letter from the Chairman to Alan Johnson

  Lord Brabazon wrote to Stephen Timms on 6 November about these proposals. In your letter of 12 November to Jimmy Hood you said that you were writing in similar terms to Lord Brabazon, but I understand that no such letter was ever sent.

  However, as the proposed Council Decision is due for consideration at a forthcoming Council, Sub-Committee F (Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs) considered it again at a meeting on 27 November, on the basis of your letter to Jimmy Hood.

  The Committee remains uncertain of the extent to which the proposal will be a genuine improvement on existing arrangements, but in view of the explanation that the change is welcomed by the social partners themselves we are content to clear the document from scrutiny. We would, however, still be grateful for responses to the questions raised by the Committee on the Communication.

Letter from Alan Johnson to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 2 December. In his letter of 6 November, your predecessor as Chair of the Select Committee raised two points.

  On the first, the Government is in favour in principle of formalising the Tripartite Social Summit by means of a Council decision. The Summits are a good opportunity to tune the Social Dialogue towards delivery of the Lisbon Strategy. The Council Legal Services have raised some procedural problems which still need to be resolved. Thus the Employment Social Policy Health and Consumer Affairs Council agreed on 3 December that the next summit ahead of the Spring Economic Council in March 2003 could go ahead as before on an informal basis. The Greek Presidency will continue work on the formal decision. The Government believes the General Affairs and External Relations Committee should have a role in preparing the social summit as part of its coordination role for the Spring Economic Council, by for example receiving agendas and preparatory papers two weeks in advance. This should remove the concerns raised by the Council Legal Services.

  On the second, European Social Fund (ESF) technical assistance is used to support preparatory, publicity, evaluation and monitoring activities related to the operation of ESF programmes. There are no plans to use ESF technical assistance to support operations by the social partners to implement or monitor the employment guidelines. This is because, firstly, social partner organisations can apply for mainstream ESF to support projects which address employment guidelines.

  Secondly, the mid-term evaluations of ESF programmes, which have already been commissioned, will assess how ESF contributes to activities described in the UK employment action plan. Social partners will be consulted on the findings of the mid-term evaluations through their membership of ESF programme monitoring committees. The operation of monitoring committees is supported by ESF technical assistance.

17 December 2002

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