Intermediate employment targets agreed at Stockholm

European Union heads of state and employment and social policy ministers met in Stockholm on 23–24 March 2001 at the annual spring economic and social European Council. The 2001 Council carried on the work of the 2000 Lisbon Council, focusing on the employment of older workers and setting intermediate targets for employment levels.

A European Council meeting was held in Stockholm on 23–24 March 2001, bringing together heads of state and government and employment and social policy ministers to discuss economic and social questions. The requirement to hold such annual spring Councils was laid down by the Lisbon Council in March 2000 (EU0004241F), which specifically discussed how the European economy could harness the potential of the "information society". The Lisbon Council's stated goal was for Europe to become "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion". In terms of employment policy, its main concrete goals to be achieved by 2010 were:

  • to raise the overall employment rate in the EU from an average of 61% to 70%; and
  • to increase the proportion of women in employment from an average of 51% to 60%.

Below we outline the main employment and social issues discussed at the Stockholm Council.

Intermediate employment targets

In order to allow steady progress towards the 2010 targets to be made, in its conclusions the Stockholm Council has set the following intermediate employment targets:

  • an overall employment rate of 67% by January 2005; and
  • a female employment rate of 57% by January 2005.

The European Council calls on Member States to incorporate these intermediate targets into their annual National Action Plans (NAP s) on employment.

Older workers

The European Council noted that, by 2010, the number of retired people will be increasing rapidly while the proportion of the population which is of working age will start to decrease. Aware that this will create a great deal of pressure on social welfare systems, the parties state that it is important to act now by taking steps to raise the employment rate of older workers, reducing public debt and adapting existing social protection systems, including pension systems (EU0011281F). The Council has therefore set a concrete target of increasing the average employment rate among women and men aged 55 to 64 to 50% by 2010.

Further, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission are to issue a joint report, before the spring 2002 European Council, on how to increase labour force participation and promote "active ageing".

Education and training

The European Council states that a policy of good general basic education and lifelong learning should be reinforced, in addition to concentrating on the training of specialist information technology (IT) staff.

The Council and the Commission will present a report to the 2002 spring European Council which will contain a detailed work programme in the area of education and training. The particular focus of this report will be ways to encourage young people and women to study scientific and technical subjects and the long-term recruitment of qualified teachers in these areas.

Mobility of workers

The Stockholm Council explored a number of ways to increase mobility, including the potential establishment of a "one-stop European mobility information web site", which will provide employment services to job-seekers in Europe. The site would contain a European database for job vacancies.

The Commission will also create a high-level task force on skills and mobility, which will draw on expertise from business, education and the social partners.

On the basis of the work of this task force, the Commission will, at the 2002 spring European Council, present an action plan for developing and opening up new European labour markets (EU0103202F). It will also draw up proposals for a more uniform, transparent and flexible system for recognising qualifications and study periods, in addition to the portability of supplementary pensions.

Quality of work

The European Council noted that: "Regaining full employment not only involves focusing on more jobs, but also on better jobs. Increased efforts should be made to promote a good working environment for all including equal opportunities for the disabled, gender equality, good and flexible work organisation permitting better reconciliation of working and personal life, lifelong learning, health and safety at work, employee involvement and diversity in working life." In this context, it was agreed that:

  • improving the quality of work will be included in the 2002 Employment Guidelines to Member States, in accordance with the process initiated at the 1997 Luxembourg Council (EU9711168F). To this end, the Council and Member States will define common approaches to maintaining and improving the quality of work;
  • the Council and the Commission will develop indicators on quality in work, to be presented to the Laeken European Council, which will take place during the second half of 2001 under the Belgian Council Presidency;
  • the Council and the European Parliament (EP) will, by the end of 2001, complete work on updating the 1976 Directive (76/207/EEC) on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions. A proposal to amend the 1976 Directive was issued in June 2000 (EU0006255F); and
  • the Council and the Commission will jointly develop indicators to ensure that there are no discriminatory pay differentials between men and women.

Fighting social exclusion

The Stockholm Council states that active labour market policies, combining the achievement of social objectives with the sustainability of public finances, should promote social inclusion. Member States should, when implementing their NAPs for employment, give priority to combating poverty and promoting social inclusion.

In order to promote this further, the Council and the Commission are invited to agree, during 2001, on a proposal for a social inclusion programme. Further, the Council is asked to agree indicators for combating social exclusion by the end of this year.

Managing change

The European Council states that the social partners have an important role to play in the management of change. The Council endorsed the setting up "as soon as possible" of the proposed European Observatory for Industrial Change. The Observatory - also known as the "European monitoring centre on change" - will be part of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, based in Dublin.

With regard to recent developments in European-level social dialogue, the European Council states that it would welcome a "positive outcome" to the negotiations on temporary agency work and on teleworking – the temporary work negotiations appeared to have broken down in March 2001 (EU0104206N), while the Commission launched, in March 2001, a second consultation of the social partners on the issue of teleworking (EU0104205N).

Corporate social responsibility

The European Council welcomes the initiatives taken by businesses to promote corporate social responsibility, and draws attention to the fact that the Commission will present a green paper on this subject in June 2001. The purpose of this green paper will be to encourage a wide exchange of ideas and promote further initiatives in this area. (Joint initiatives taken in recent months by companies and trade unions include the conclusion of global codes of corporate conduct and similar texts at firms such the Norwegian oil group Statoil[EU0103201F], the Spanish telecommunications concern Telefónica[EU0005244N] and the Swedish construction multinational Skanska.)

Safe and sustainable social protection systems

A number of social protection initiatives were discussed at the Stockholm Council, as follows:

  • the Council will present the outcome of an EU Social Protection Committee study on the sustainability of pension systems to the Gothenburg European Council, scheduled to take place in June 2001 under the outgoing Swedish Presidency;
  • the Commission will present a communication on the quality and sustainability of pensions in the light of demographic change. The EU Social Protection Committee and Economic Policy Committee will prepare a report on this theme for the Council, in time for the 2002 spring European Council; and
  • the Council is invited to agree, by the end of 2001, on the modernisation of Regulation 1408/71 on the coordination of social security systems, most recently discussed at the 6 March 2001 Employment and Social Policy Council (EU0104204N). It is hoped that the Council and the EP will then be able to adopt this proposal.

Commentary

It is beyond doubt that the rate of unemployment is falling, both in terms of the EU average and the rate in individual countries. The latest figures from Eurostat show that EU average unemployment was 8% in February 2001, compared with 9.5% in February 1999. Although unemployment rates vary from country to country – ranging from 13.7% in Spain to 2% in the Netherlands– unemployment has fallen everywhere over the past two years. It would be difficult to prove exactly how much of this is due to the European employment strategy, which has now been in force since November 1997. It may be that these positive employment statistics also owe a great deal to the robust European economic growth of the past few years. However, it is certain that targeting unemployment and in particular focusing on perceived problematic areas such as the employment of older workers and the maintenance of IT skills, will help to reduce unemployment in the EU even further. (Andrea Broughton, IRS).

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