Adaptability is the third of the four pillars of the European Employment Strategy. The Employment Guidelines adopted at the Special Luxembourg European Council Summit (the ‘Jobs’ Summit of November 1997) were grouped around four ‘pillars’: employability, entrepreneurship, adaptability, and equal opportunities. The adaptability pillar is entitled ‘encouraging adaptability of businesses and their employees.’ It covers adaptability in terms of the organisation of work, working patterns and contracts, as well as adaptability in terms of regulatory and training systems. It recognises that a balance must be struck between the need of businesses for flexibility, and the needs of employees for security and employability (Commission Green Paper Partnership for a new organisation of work COM (97) 128 (Final)). However, in its evaluation after five years of operation of the European Employment Strategy (Taking stock of five years of the European Employment Strategy, COM (2002) 416, 17 July 2002), the Commission made some criticisms regarding the adaptability pillar: it pointed to a failure to introduce a balance between flexibility, security and job quality; and that flexibility had increased to the detriment of employment security.
The evaluation led to new draft employment guidelines announced by the Commission in April 2003. The Employment Strategy now comprises three main objectives: 1. Full employment; 2. Improving quality and productivity at work; and 3. Strengthening social cohesion and inclusion. Following these are 10 ‘priorities for action’ to be implemented by the Member States in pursuit of the main objectives. The third of these priorities is to ‘address change and promote adaptability in work.’
The guidelines have consistently emphasised, in the words of the 2003 version, ‘strong involvement of the social partners’ at European and particularly at national level, ‘to ensure effective implementation… in all areas under their responsibility, in particular concerning the management of change and adaptability’. However, the annual reports on adaptability and quality in work have regularly highlighted the inadequacy of the role of the social partners in the implementation of the European Employment Strategy and called for more active engagement on their part in this process.