UNICE outlines its vision for social Europe beyond 2000

In September 1999, the European employers' organisation UNICE presented its vision for social Europe in a report entitled "Releasing Europe's employment potential - companies' views on European social policy beyond 2000". In its document, UNICE calls for greater flexibility and respect for the principle of subsidiarity. The European Trade Union Confederation has called the paper "disappointing".

In a report published in September 1999, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) outlines its vision for social Europe beyond 2000. The document, entitled "Releasing Europe's employment potential - companies' views on European social policy beyond 2000," identifies unemployment as Europe's most fundamental economic and social problem and sees competitiveness as one of the key solutions to economic and social challenges, arguing that this should therefore be the underlying concern throughout EU policy. UNICE states that, in order to translate growth into employment, Europe needs to address the issues of economic globalisation more effectively. It is argued that the high unemployment rates in Europe are caused not by a lack of demand, but by structural problems.

In order to address these problems, UNICE argues that the capital, labour and product markets need to be reviewed alongside social policy reform. The EU's key role is seen to lie in ensuring labour market change through the European Employment Guidelines. This, however, will also depend on cooperation and implementation of policies by Member States. UNICE feels that a more "qualitative" approach should be taken by European social policy, rather than it being so closely associated with EU Directives. UNICE welcome the opportunity to play a useful role in more general social dialogue which "is not restricted only to negotiation of agreements at European level".

UNICE reiterates its view that European policy should not seek to homogenise all Member States, but should respect the different labour market models: "proposals for European legislation that do not respect subsidiarity and proportionality will be met with strong resistance by UNICE and its member federations."

It is argued that the face of industrial relations is changing and developing at different levels within each Member State. In order to maintain balanced solutions between employer and employee needs, diversity in national industrial relations systems should be respected and EU-level intervention should be restricted.

UNICE points to the effects of globalisation, EU Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), technical change and demographic change upon the various markets across Europe. Globalisation has brought the benefits of increased wealth and greater consumer choice but in turn it requires a regulatory framework that has the capacity to respond quickly to changes, and labour costs that are within the boundaries set by price competition and labour productivity.

UNICE acknowledges the increased growth of technology and high-skill sectors and states that a flexible workforce with a broad base of skills is appropriate for addressing these changes UNICE also feels that subcontracting has an important role to play and that regulatory frameworks need to reviewed to take better account of service activities. Demographic changes will mean an increase in the older population and a decrease in the working population over the next few decades. This will have an effect upon the social protection systems and training and education. UNICE wants a reform of social protection systems that will encourage greater labour market participation, and the development of lifelong learning to update skills in line with the pace of technological change.

Other demands include managing companies in an economically and socially responsible way and introducing structural reforms to maximise the employment opportunities arising as a result of EMU. UNICE also highlights the market benefits of new Member States joining the EU.

UNICE is particularly keen to ensure that the Amsterdam Treaty's protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality is not overlooked and that there is a strong focus on "genuinely added value", improving transparency to promote best practices. Equal opportunities, cross-border transferability of pension rights and transparency of qualifications are all key features in this. Any legislation should be attentive to: the individual models of Member States; companies' needs for flexibility; workers' protection needs; and promotion of entrepreneurship. It should also allow for adequate transposition periods. UNICE welcomes the role that it plays in social dialogue at EU level and sees the value of a plurality of roles with discussions "focused on a real exchange of views and fact-based analysis". This is also applicable for discussions arising from the European Employment Guidelines, with acknowledgement of national practice.

UNICE argues that it has a clear contribution to make to the analysis of unemployment in the EU-level dialogue. UNICE feels that if a qualitative approach is adopted, "not only should it make it possible to release Europe's employment potential but it should also allow for gradual market-driven convergence towards the best performing practices in the Member States, as opposed to forced harmonisation."

In a statement made on 20 September 1999 following the publication of the UNICE report, Emilio Gabaglio, the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) called the document "disappointing". He argued that "UNICE's working paper on social policy fails to mark the necessary turning point in the deep-seated attitude of European employers towards social Europe." Mr Gabaglio accused UNICE of advocating a watering-down of European social policy and a passive stance by EU institutions, thus "failing to recognise their legal responsibilities in this area". ETUC argues that in the context of EMU such a view could weaken one all-important aspect of the social dialogue: the ability to promote common EU rules for working standards in order to prevent "social dumping". Mr Gabaglio argues that this could explain UNICE's lack of response to proposals made by ETUC six months previously for negotiations in matters concerning work organisation, including areas such as telework, temporary work and training. ETUC also criticises the UNICE paper for failing to mention the European employment pact agreed at the June 1999 Cologne European Council summit (EU9906180N). It sees this omission as indicative of the employers' alleged reluctance to participate fully in a European employment strategy.

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