Commissioner Flynn outlines priorities and current status of IGC

In a public lecture in Ireland on 18 April 1997, the commissioner for employment, industrial relations and social affairs outlined the European Commission's priorities and the current status of negotiations in the Intergovernmental Conference.

Speaking at the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin, Padraig Flynn, the commissioner for employment, industrial relations and social affairs, outlined his priorities for the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) and provided the audience with an update of the continuing negotiations leading up the Amsterdam summit in June (EU9704117F).

Mr Flynn stressed from the outset that the IGC is not about Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) or enlargement; its aim is to review and adjust the existing Treaty to accommodate what he termed "the inevitable destiny of the Union: one currency and a series of new member states". In order to achieve this, changes were required primarily in the following areas: institutional reform, justice and home affairs (the so-called "third pillar" of the EU), a common foreign and security policy, flexibility and social policy. The commissioner's views on institutional reform and the development of employment and social policy are outlined below.

Institutional reform

In order for the Union to be able to deal with an increased membership and population, Mr Flynn argued that changes were required in procedures and institutional structures. According to the commissioner, key issues for reform are the structure of the Commission itself and the reweighting of votes in the Council of Ministers.

With regard to the Commission, discussion revolves around whether, even in an enlarged Union, it will be feasible that each member state is represented by its own commissioner. Some member states are arguing in favour of a leaner, more efficient Commission structure, while others are adamant that their country needs to retain its own representative. While, according to Mr Flynn, most member states appear to favour the latter option, there is a realisation that the Commission could become too large and unwieldy and a ceiling would have to be imposed somewhere.

Looking at voting procedures in the Council of Ministers, the Commissioner sees some evidence of increasing support for qualified majority voting (QMV) to replace the requirement for unanimity in a number of areas. Indeed, the Commission sees QMV as preferable in all areas of policy-making as it is seen to encourage "positive and constructive negotiation". In the area of social policy, Mr Flynn sees evidence of a willingness to extend QMV to more sensitive areas such as social security matters. In the debate on the reweighting of votes, the commissioner sees a split between the larger and the smaller member states, with the larger countries fearing that majority voting would yield majorities based on ever-diminishing proportions of the EU's population. At a recent conclave in Nordwijk, two options were debated as possibilities:

  • the reweighting of votes in the Council; and
  • a second count of votes based on the proportion of the population.

My Flynn argued strongly in favour of the former since the development of "two systems of counting would hardly add to the understandability and transparency of the system".

Employment and social policy

European social policy is seen to be an issue of increasing importance for the Union and embraces areas such as employment and fundamental social rights, as well as the involvement of all groups in society in the dialogue and consultation process. The building of a "people's Europe" is, according to Mr Flynn, about the preservation of the "European social model" of high standards of social protection, high levels of quality employment and a well developed civil dialogue.

The Commissioner thinks it likely - thanks to the Irish effort in drawing up the draft Treaty for the Dublin Summit in December 1996 and the current efforts of the Dutch Presidency - that a new title on employment, enabling the Commission to devise a common employment strategy, will be included in the revised Treaty.

The Commission aims to get the social policy Protocol fully integrated into the Treaty and would like to see provisions made for a statement of fundamental rights as part of the new Treaty text.

In the area of equal opportunities, the Commission is pressing for a general anti-discrimination clause and for equality between women and men to become an explicit task of the Union. A Commission initiative to find a satisfactory legal basis for the social action programmes on social exclusion and ageing is currently being blocked by the Council.

In conclusion, Mr Flynn highlighted the need for all citizens of the Union not only to feel its social benefits, but also to be actively involved as part of a "civil dialogue" extending the current social dialogue process.

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