Laeken Council endorses employment strategy and prepares for further Treaty reform

The European Council held in Laeken in December 2001 under the outgoing Belgian EU Presidency discussed a number of employment-related topics, including progress towards the targets set by the Lisbon strategy. It also began the process of further Treaty reform.

Ministers and heads of state gathered in the Belgian town of Laeken on 14–15 December 2001 for the European Council which marks the end of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of Ministers. The Presidency subsequently issued a document containing the conclusions of the debates.

In terms of employment, the Council stated that the forthcoming spring European Council, to be held in Barcelona on 15–16 March 2002, will 'take stock of our progress towards the Lisbon strategic goal of becoming the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, with full employment and increased levels of social cohesion, by 2010'. The Lisbon strategy, set out at the March 2000 European Council (EU0004241F), contains a number of concrete employment targets, including an overall employment rate of 70% and a female employment rate of 60% by 2010. The Council stated that progress towards the Lisbon goals has already been made and that efforts will now be accelerated.

On the subject of the 'European social model', the Council welcomed a number of recent developments, including the recent political agreement, in the form of a conciliated text, between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament (EP) on the proposed Directive on informing and consulting workers in the EU (EU0110206F). The Council also makes reference to the topic of preventing and resolving industrial conflicts, particularly those of a transnational nature, by means of voluntary mediation mechanisms (EU0112245F). This is an issue which is likely to gain a higher profile over the coming months – the European Commission will soon submit a 'discussion paper' on the topic.

Other social policy topics given a mention by the Council include gender equality, social inclusion and pensions. On this latter point, the Council notes that ensuring that pensions are adequate and sustainable, that pension systems are modernised and that access to occupational provision is improved, are all important strategies for dealing with needs in this area.

The Council also discussed the issue of further Treaty reform and decided to create a new body – the Convention – charged with debating the relevant issues. This work is intended to prepare the ground for a new Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) which will ultimately result in an update of the Treaty establishing the European Community. The Convention will be presided over by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former French President, and will comprise one representative from the heads of state or governments of each Member State, two members of each Member State's parliament, 16 members of the EP and two members of the European Commission. The Convention will begin its work on 1 March 2002 and complete its deliberations within one year.

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