National Action Plans for employment reviewed

In May 1998, the European Commission adopted a Communication examining the National Action Plans on employment drawn up by the Member States in response to the EU Employment Guidelines 1998.

On 13 May 1998, the European Commission adopted a Communication - entitled From guidelines to action: the National Action Plans for employment- examining the Member States' National Action Plans (NAP s). These Plans drawn up in response to the Employment Guidelines for 1998 which were adopted in December 1997 by the Council of Ministers as part of the "Luxembourg" European employment strategy. The objective of the Communication is to examine whether the commitments in the NAPs are in line with the Guidelines' four objectives, or "pillars", of employability, adaptability, entrepreneurship and equal opportunities.

The Commission's analysis of the NAPs will provide the basis for the discussions at the June 1998 meeting of the European Council in Cardiff. Following the Cardiff summit, it is foreseen that the employment situation in the EU will be discussed at the Vienna European Council in December 1998. This will provide the opportunity to assess whether the Member States have followed up their commitments by translating their plans into actions, and whether recognisable progress in attaining the objectives of the Guidelines has been made.

The submission of the NAPs has been viewed positively and the Commission has argued that this demonstrates that there is now a shared commitment to making progress on employment. Commenting on the Plans, Commission President Jacques Santer and the Commissioner responsible for employment and social affairs, Pádraig Flynn, said that "the fact that all 15 Member States, in spite of the very tight time frame of only four months, have prepared, adapted and delivered their National Action Plans by the end of April 1998 constitutes, in itself, a major political achievement. This is a significant step forward in the Luxembourg process. We now need to consolidate what has been achieved and keep up the political momentum for effective implementation."

The Commission finds the response of the Member States encouraging both in terms of process and content.

In respect to process, all the Member States were found to have undertaken a comprehensive and critical self-assessment of current problems, needs and policies in their labour market. They have broadly adapted all 19 Guidelines to their specific national conditions and have initiated a multiannual programme approach to address them. Member States have also followed an inclusive approach by involving the key actors at various levels. In the case of the UK, Portugal, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands, consultations with the social partners have led to the inclusion of text in the NAPs which has been agreed with the relevant social partners. Many of the Plans build and improve upon existing employment policy foundations in terms of coverage, intensity and partnership.

In terms of content, all the Member States have declared their political commitment to an active employment policy, measures focus on improving incentives, developing skill levels and providing job opportunities. Additionally some Member States are reviewing their tax and benefit systems to ensure that their impact is employment-friendly and conducive to entrepreneurship. There is a clear recognition of the need for a stronger local dimension to decentralise employment policy. For example, in the case of Spain and Italy, greater responsibility has been devolved to regional and local authorities as well as social partners. Additionally, it is recognised that there is a need to develop and modernise the public employment service as a key delivery mechanism to reinforce the objective of employability. All the Plans recognise the importance of improving the knowledge and skills base, and in particular, strengthening the linkages between education, training and working life. Lastly, the preparation of NAPs has increased the opportunities for social partners to contribute and have an influence on employment policy.

The examination of the NAPs has also revealed a few problems, according to the Commission. Firstly, the focus of the plans has been one-sided to the detriment of the pillars of adaptability and equal opportunities. For the Guidelines to be effective, they need to be tackled in an integrated and mutually supportive way. Secondly, the budget and resource implications are not always detailed - though this is understandable when considering that the Plans were prepared after the budget decisions had already been taken. Thirdly, there is some concern that the majority of measures focus primarily on people who are already long-term unemployed and ignore the flow of people into long-term unemployment. Lastly, a prominent concern has been the lack of quantified indicators and objectives set by the NAPs which would assist in the evaluation of the Plans .

On the whole, the Commission has acknowledged that the NAPs represent a significant step forward in the Luxembourg process, and the next step facing the Member States is the implementation of their Plans.

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