Commission reports on progress of social action programme

The European Commission has recently published its report on the implementation of the current social action programme. The report outlines the achievements to date, as well as next steps to be taken prior to the revision of the social action programme following the Intergovernmental Conference.

In a recent report (Social Europe 4/96, published in March/April 1997), the European Commission assesses the progress towards the achievement of the goals of the medium-term social action programme covering the period between 1995-7. This social action programme, adopted in April 1995, is seen by the Commission as marking a breakthrough for new ideas and policies. The basic concept underlying the programme is that social policy is a productive factor facilitating change and progress, rather than a burden on the economy or an obstacle to growth.

In its report, the Commission sees its main achievements as being the following:

  • Employment. The member states have drawn up their first multiannual programmes in the follow-up to the Essen summit in December 1994. To support this process, each member state has held a national seminar to present its employment strategy and a report on the findings of these seminars is to be published shortly. The main aim of employment policy is the activation of passive labour market policies. The Labour and Social Affairs Council and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin) have agreed on the structural goals for employment policy - integration of young people, prevention of long-term unemployment, and mainstreaming of equal opportunities. As a result of the joint employment report presented to the Dublin European Council meeting in December 1996, common indicators on employment matters have been developed.
  • Equal opportunities for women and men. The fourth equality action programme has been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Mainstreaming (the integration of an equal opportunities focus into all stages of the policy cycle) has been adopted as the underlying principle of work on equal opportunities' policy.
  • Social protection. The Commission has issued a Communication on the modernisation and improvement of social protection systems in the European Union (EU9703113N). This is to act as a basis for broad consultations with European institutions, social partners and non-governmental organisations (NGO s).
  • Social action The Commission is keen to extend consultations beyond the traditional social partners (employers and trade unions) to cover NGOs and other key interest groups. This was the aim of the first European Social Forum, which took place in March 1996.
  • Public health. Progress has been made in the implementation of Community actions on cancer, health promotion, information, education and training in the fields of public health, and on AIDS and communicable diseases.
  • Health and safety. The Commission has launched a new five-year Community programme on safety, hygiene and health at work.
  • Social dialogue and social rights. The first European collective agreement has been reached (on parental leave), and negotiations are currently under way on part-time work. The Commission has presented a Communication on the future of the social dialogue and is currently working on a report summarising responses received from the social partner organisations.
  • European Social Fund ( ESF). Priority has been given to employment creation measures. An initiative has been launched with the member states to improve the financial management and execution of the ESF budget.
  • External dimension and enlargement. The Commission has begun work to prepare opinions on the requests for accession to the EU and on evaluating the effect on Community employment and social policy.

As far as next steps for the implementation of the medium-term social action programme are concerned, the Commission states that it will continue to analyse the contribution social policy can make to achieving the economic and social objectives of the Union. In the area of equal opportunities, the Commission has recently launched the second stage of consultations with the social partners on a common framework to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace (EU9703112N). Further work is to be done on the analysis of the social and societal aspects of the information society, which was launched with the presentation of a Green Paper on "living and working in the information society".

The first half of 1997 is also to see the mid-term review of the European Social Fund, and the whole of 1997 is dedicated to actions and awareness-raising campaigns on the issue of racism.

The future of employment policy and fundamental social rights is currently being considered by the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) (EU9704117F) and a new action plan will be drawn up following the outcome of the IGC.

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