Vienna summit reaffirms employment as priority
The European Council meeting in Vienna on 11-12 December 1998 emphasised commitment to employment as the EU's top priority. Member States commended themselves and one another for the progress achieved in implementing the 1998 Employment Guidelines and welcomed the Commission's proposed 1999 Guidelines. Particular emphasis was placed on the achievement of a coordinated economic and employment strategy, the "mainstreaming" of equal opportunities and making a reality of the concept of lifelong learning.
The European Council summit meeting held under the Austrian Presidency in Vienna on 11-12 December 1998 reaffirmed employment as "the top priority of the European Union" and commended the Member States on their efforts made in implementing the 1998 Employment Guidelines, which, it argued, have contributed to a reduction in the average unemployment rate to under 10%. Nevertheless, it is stated in the Presidency conclusions that more needs to be done using a comprehensive approach, encompassing: macroeconomic policies directed towards growth and stability; economic reform promoting competitiveness; and employment policies designed to improve employability, adaptability, equal opportunities and job creation in existing and new enterprises.
The multiannual surveillance system on employment is seen to have laid positive foundations for an ongoing process of learning from different elements of good practice in employment policies. However, it is argued that this process needs to be reinforced through the setting of verifiable objectives and deadlines at European and national level and the institution of common performance and policy indicators. In order to achieve this, the Council calls for an increased involvement and responsibility of the social partners.
The Council welcomed the European Commission's proposed 1999 Employment Guidelines (EU9810130F) and called upon Member States, when revising their National Action Plans (NAP s) to implement the guidelines, to pay particular attention to the following:
- achieving tangible progress in promoting equal opportunities between women and men, in particular using "benchmarks" and a gender "mainstreaming" approach;
- making a reality of the concept of lifelong learning, in particular setting a national target for participants benefiting from such measures;
- fully exploiting the potential of the services sector and industry-related services, in particular information technology and the environmental sector;
- examining the tax and benefit systems in order to provide incentives for unemployed and inactive people to take up work or training opportunities and for employers to create new jobs;
- supporting older workers to increase their participation in the labour force; and
- promoting social inclusion and equality of opportunity for disadvantaged groups.
The 1999 reports on the implementation of the NAPs are to be submitted for examination in mid-June.
The Presidency conclusions call upon the Commission to present a communication on mainstreaming employment policies in early 1999. The Commission is equally invited to allow the Member States which so desire to experiment with reduced Value Added Tax rates on labour-intensive services which are not exposed to cross-border competition (EU9803195N).
In addition, the Council emphasised the importance of education and training measures and welcomed the adoption of the common positions by the Council of Ministers on the SOCRATES and LEONARDO DA VINCI action programmes.
Other matters discussed at the summit included the development of a more coordinated macro-economic strategy, Economic and Monetary Union, internal market issues, enlargement, the implementation of the Amsterdam Treaty and foreign and security policy.