Labour and Social Affairs Council dominated by preparations for Jobs Summit
The October 1997 meeting of EU Labour and Social Affairs Ministers was dominated by preparations for the special Jobs Summit in November. Among the other issues on the agenda were the follow-up to the Davignon report, the Directive to enact the framework agreement on part-time work concluded by ETUC, UNICE and CEEP, and the White Paper on the sectors and activities excluded from the working time Directive.
The Council of Labour and Social Affairs Ministers met on 7 October, chaired by Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker (currently President of the Labour and Social Affairs Council as well as the European Council). Ministers devoted most of its meeting on the preparations of the special Jobs Summit to be held under the Luxembourg Presidency on 20-21 November 1997. The debate focused on the documents recently adopted by the European Commission- the draft Joint Employment Report 1997 and the Proposal for Guidelines for Member State Employment Policies 1998. The former is to be approved by the joint Economic and Financial Affairs and Social Affairs Council to be held on 17 November 1997. Ministers equally debated the establishment of a list of best practices on employment, based on the national contributions provided by the Member States in response to a request from Mr Juncker.
In preparation for the Jobs Summit, the Presidency is also keen to intensify contacts with the social partners to obtain their input. As part of this process, Labour and Social Affairs Ministers met representatives of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP), as well as the President of the European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee and other MEPs over dinner on evening of 6 October. Mr Juncker as well as Padraig Flynn, the commissioner responsible for labour and social affairs, showed themselves encouraged by the inputs received in this informal meeting. As a result, Mr Juncker stressed the following initial reactions to the Commission's employment guidelines:
- there is a need to agree a limited number of guidelines which are quantifiable and achievable, rather than a long list of vague declarations;
- the existence of a consensus that these guidelines must not be confused with the result their successful implementation was intended to produce; and
- the Member States should adopt each year national programmes transposing the guidelines adopted at European level into their national situations.
Ministers also held a policy debate on employee involvement in the European Company on the basis of a Presidency draft compromise, which puts flesh on the guidelines laid down by the Davignon report (EU9705128N). This draft compromise seeks to use, wherever possible, the solutions used by the European Works Councils Directive (ie negotiations by the parties concerned, backed up by minimum regulatory standards where negotiations break down). The exchange of views in the Council focused on the questions of: whether negotiating parties should have full autonomy with regards to the content of the agreement seeking to avoid application of the statutory rules annexed to the compromise proposal; and, if limits had to be imposed on their autonomy, what should these be?
The implementation of the framework agreement on part-time work reached by the social partners on 6 June 1997 (EU9706131F) was also the subject of debate. This is to be effected by a Commission proposal for a Directive which incorporates the agreement (EU9707139N). This draft Directive has been subject to heavy criticism from the European Parliament (EP). An EP report on the draft Directive, published on 28 July 1997, makes the following criticisms:
- the exclusion of other forms of "atypical work" and social security considerations;
- the possibility of derogations from the Directive for "material" or "objective" reasons, which are not otherwise defined;
- the limitation of the accord to declarations, which do not meet the objective of eliminating discrimination against part-time workers and do not render this form of employment more attractive.
The EP report sees the draft Directive as falling short of ILO regulations in this area and criticises the lengthy nature of the negotiation procedure under the social policy Agreement and the new draft Treaty.
The Labour and Social Affairs Council also reached unanimous political agreement on its common position on the proposal for a recommendation of a parking card for people with disabilities. Political agreement was also reached on a Commission proposal for an amendment to Regulation No 1360/90 establishing a European Training Foundation. Ministers also took note of the work programme of the Employment and Labour Market Committee and received a presentation of the Commission White Paper on sectors and activities excluded from the working time Directive (EU9707138N). Ministers also held discussions with their counterparts in the associated countries of Central and Eastern Europe.