The European semester is an annual framework whereby the EU and the euro zone coordinate their proposed budgetary and economic policies, in line with both the Stability and Growth Pact and the Europe 2020 strategy. Each year, the European Commission undertakes a detailed analysis of EU Member States’ programmes of economic and structural reforms and provides them with recommendations for the next 12–18 months.
The European semester, launched at the beginning of 2011, kicks off in January when the Commission adopts its Annual Growth Survey, which sets out EU priorities for the coming year to boost growth and job creation. The timetable covers a six-month period:
- In January, the European Commission publishes the Annual Growth Survey, to be discussed by the European Council and the European Parliament before the Spring Council in March.
- At the Spring Council, Member States identify the main challenges facing the EU, and set economic policy priorities on the basis of the Annual Growth Survey. These will provide the foundation for recommendations on budget and economic policy in the Member States.
- In April, Member States present and discuss their medium-term budgetary strategies through Stability and Convergence Programmes, based on recommendations from the Council. They also draw up National Reform Programmes detailing their actions on issues such as employment and social inclusion. Member States are expected to do this in consultation with their respective national social partners. If requested, the views of the social partners should be annexed to the National Reform Programmes. These two documents are then sent to the European Commission for assessment.
- In May and June, the Commission evaluates these programmes and provides country-specific recommendations as appropriate. Commission representatives visit countries to present the recommendations and if possible to meet the social partners. The Council discusses the recommendations and the European Council endorses them. Policy advice is given to Member States before they start to finalise their draft budgets for the following year.
- At the end of June, or in early July, the Council formally adopts the country-specific recommendations. The Commission’s reports the following year will then assess progress on implementation of these recommendations in the Member States.
One of the main aims of this working method, according to the Commission in its report after the first European Semester (54.8 KB PDF), is ‘to ensure that collective discussion on key priorities takes place at EU level before, and not after, national decisions are taken’.
The 2013 European semester was concluded in July 2013 with the adoption by the Council of the country-specific recommendations. These built on the enhanced economic policy coordination, and on the implementation of many of the lessons learned from the previous European semester. According to a Presidency Report (166 KB PDF), several improvements were made to the 2013 European semester, and it was generally considered successful. However, the assessment notes that some shortcomings on its implementation, scope, focus and timing still need to be addressed.
The 2014 European semester began with the adoption of a new Annual Growth Survey in November 2013. The Commission notes that the main challenge now facing Europe’s economy is how to sustain the recovery. The latest European semester will consequently focus on consolidating the recovery and helping Member States to make progress on correcting the imbalances that developed before the crisis. Its main priorities remain the same as the previous year:
- pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation;
- restoring bank lending to the economy;
- promoting growth and competitiveness for today and tomorrow;
- tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis;
- modernising public administration.
The Annual Growth Survey also states that Member States need to involve national parliaments, social partners and citizens to a greater extent in the process of working out country-specific recommendations, in order to ensure that key reforms are understood and accepted. Further, Member States in the euro zone should devote more time to coordinating major reforms at local level (particularly in labour and product markets) before they are adopted at national level.
The European semester is expected to involve national parliaments, social partners, regions and other stakeholders. However, according to a December 2013 position paper on the Commission’s Communication on strengthening the social dimension of Economic and Monetary Union, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said that the involvement of the social partners in the European Semester process was inadequate. In September 2013, European lobby group BusinessEurope stated in a policy briefing on social dialogue in general, that the European social partners should focus their activities on a limited number of key issues where they can add value to national labour market reforms, and that the autonomy of European social partners must be respected.
The EU-level cross-sector social partners issued a declaration on social partner involvement in European economic governance in 2014 (338 KB PDF), stating:
Involving social partners in the elaboration and implementation of policies affecting directly or indirectly employment and labour markets all along the different steps of the European semester is essential with the view of taking into account their position. Social partner consultations should be timely and meaningful, allowing the necessary analysis and proposals and fitting within decision making processes.
See also: Annual Growth Survey; Broad Economic Policy Guidelines; Collective industrial relations; Economic And Monetary Union; Employment guidelines; European economic governance; European Employment Strategy; Integrated guidelines; National Action Plans; National Reform Programmes; Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance.