The French social partners and the French EU Presidency

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The French Presidency of the European Union of July-December 2000 gave French trade unions and employers' associations the opportunity to participate in European Union debates, notably on the EU Charter of fundamental rights and the new social policy agenda. Moreover, in the second half of 2000, the social partners contributed to the implementation of France's 2000 National Action Plan on employment and started considering the 2001 Plan.

French trade unions and employers' associations played an active role in each of the major social and employment issues dealt with under the French Presidency of the European Union of the second half of 2000 (FR0006167N). An example of their strong interest was that in early 2000, the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF), published a paper entitled An innovative Presidency for a Europe on the move. MEDEF priorities for the French Presidency of the European Council (Présider autrement l'Europe en mouvement. Priorités du MEDEF pour la Présidence française du Conseil de l'Union européenne). Some of the main activities of the French social partners during the French EU Presidency are set out below.

EU Charter of fundamental rights

Throughout 2000, French trade unions worked hard on the EU Charter of fundamental rights project, which was initially unveiled at the European Council meeting in Cologne in June 1999 (EU9906180N). French unions affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) - CFDT, CFTC, CGT, CGT-FO and UNSA- set up an ad-hoc committee, coordinated by CGT. These unions organised a presentation of their demands for the Charter, along with the National Federation of Private Health and Social Organisations (Union nationale interfédérale des oeuvres et organismes privés sanitaires et sociaux, UNIOPSS) and French non-governmental organisations (NGO s) affiliated to the Platform of European Social NGOs, held in Paris on 30 June 2000. The French trade unions were instrumental in informing the French authorities and members of the Charter's drafting Convention (EU0004242F) of these demands.

MEDEF stated its approval of the Charter's approach and principles at the European Council meeting in Biarritz in November 2000. The Charter was proclaimed by the the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament at the Nice summit in December 2000 (EU0012288F),

Social agenda

The content of the EU's new social policy agenda (EU0007266F) was discussed by French unions and employers' associations in a working party of the Committee for Social Dialogue on European Union and International Issues (Comité du dialogue social pour les questions européennes et internationales, CDSEI) (FR9812149N).

The draft social agenda developed by the French Presidency prior to the Nice summit was widely criticised by the various trade unions and employers' associations. They considered that the agenda made only scant reference to existing social provisions and did not adequately consider the issue of social dialogue. In addition, the unions, each with its individual particular slant, stated that the French draft fell short of the objectives set out in the European Commission paper on the same subject.

Trade union demonstration in Nice

ETUC called a demonstration on 6 December 2000 at the Nice summit, under the slogan "For a Europe of jobs and social rights". The demonstration drew close to 60,000 participants, from most EU member and candidate states. French demonstrators were joined by major groups from neighbouring countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Italy, in spite of difficulties with French customs.

As far as the French contingent was concerned, all ETUC affiliates (CFDT, CFTC, CGT, CGT-FO and UNSA) were represented by delegations of varying strengths. CGT, which joined ETUC in 1999 (FR9903167N), was particularly keen to turn out a strong contingent to show its ability to mobilise members. The CFDT delegation was equally impressive but time constraints meant that it was unable to complete the entire march. The other French trade unions present encountered similar difficulties.

In addition to ETUC member organisations, other trade unions, associations and political parties marched for all or part of the demonstration route. These included local union delegations of the Unitary Union Federation (Fédération syndicale unitaire, FSU) and of Solidarity, Unity, Democracy (Solidaire, Unitaire, Démocratique, SUD).

Discussion on the 2000 and 2001 NAPs

On 13 December 2000, some months into the implementation of the 2000 National Action Plan () for employment in response to the EU Employment Guidelines (FR0005164F), a working party of the Committee for Social Dialogue on European Union and International Issues provided a forum for the social partners to highlight their contributions to the 2000 NAP. These were in particular contributions on the issue of working time and on charters for cooperation between the various labour market actors at local level. For example, CGT referred to cooperation initiatives in the Lyons region between local government and large and small businesses. The French division of the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) reported on its participation in a taskforce studying "time and the regions", set up by the Town and Country Planning and Regional Policy Delegation (Délégation à l'Aménagement du territoire et à l'action régionale, DATAR) of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the Environment (Ministère de l'Aménagement du Territoire et de l'Environnement).

The Committee for Social Dialogue on European Union and International Issues was also used as a forum by the trade unions and employers' associations to clarify the methodology that they wanted the government to adopt for the development of the 2001 NAP. The Plan's various actions are to be split into three categories, based on whether they fall within government, social partner or joint jurisdiction.

The exact consultation process on the 2001 NAP is shortly to be specified, with emphasis on a series of key issues. Single-issue working groups are to be set up within the framework of the Committee for Social Dialogue on European Union and International Issues to study "active ageing", recruitment problems, job quality and instability, life-long learning and regional specificities.

The national-level social partners intend to distribute, largely among within their own ranks, the EU's 2001 Employment Guidelines (EU0010276F), in order to promote internal cooperation and involve more effectively their various regional-level bodies.

Commentary

The French Presidency of the European Union was an opportunity for the various trade unions and employers' associations to take part in the public debate on EU issues. The social partners particularly focused their attention on the new social agenda and the Charter of fundamental rights. The rally of French trade unionists at the European Council summit in Nice in December 2000 raised awareness of European social issues and the future of the EU among French workers.

Increased French social partner awareness of EU issues goes hand in hand with closer cooperation between trade unions and employers' associations, local authorities and the government in developing the NAP, as witnessed by the initial discussions on the 2001 NAP. (Maurice Braud, IRES)

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