Commission issues proposal on coordination of social protection policy

The European Commission issued in May 2003 a Communication in which it sets out the case for streamlining and improving the coordination of social protection policy at EU level in the areas of pensions, social inclusion, healthcare and social security systems.

The European Commission issued a Communication, entitled Strengthening the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy: streamlining open coordination in the field of social protection, on 28 May 2003. The proposal aims to improve, simplify and make more visible the work of the EU in coordinating Member States’ social protection policies in the areas of: pensions; social inclusion and combating poverty; healthcare and care for the elderly; and social security systems, with particular emphasis on how these encourage people to seek work rather than remain on social benefits.

The aim is to integrate, by 2006, coordination of policies in these areas into one single framework, using the 'open method of coordination', which is based on the drawing up of national action plans within the framework of guidelines issued by the Commission and Council. This policy has been used in the area of employment policy since 1997 (EU9711168F). It is hoped that this initiative will reinforce the social dimension of the 'Lisbon strategy' of economic, employment and social reform, set out at the March 2000 Lisbon European Council (EU0004241F). A mandate for the streamlining of social protection policies was agreed at the spring European Council held in March 2003 in Brussels (EU0304205F).

The Commission envisages that a single set of common objectives in the abovementioned areas of social protection policy will be developed and adopted by 2006, following an in-depth evaluation of the progress already achieved through EU policy coordination in each area. This social protection strategy will then be synchronised with the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and the European Employment Strategy (EU0210206F).

It is envisaged that the process will involve one single reporting operation, which will replace the existing separate reports in each social protection policy area. Accordingly, the Commission and Council of Ministers will draw up a joint report on social protection, based on national reports from EU Member States. As is now the practice in the area of employment and economic policy, a full joint report will be issued every three years, with briefer annual reports in between.

Anna Diamantopoulou, the EU Commissioner for employment and social affairs, stated that: 'Member States will always retain the power to design, manage and deliver their own social protection policies. However, the EU can and must add value by helping governments to coordinate the reforms necessary to face the pressure of demographic trends and globalisation while preserving the core element – cohesion – of the European social model. Without effective EU coordination of social protection reforms, we risk reforming too slowly, too ineffectually and too unfairly.'

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