Council reaches political agreement on electromagnetic fields proposal

A meeting of the EU employment and social affairs Council, held in October 2003, discussed a range of topics, including a draft Directive regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from electromagnetic fields, undeclared work, immigration and open coordination in the field of social protection.

EU labour and social policy ministers met in Luxembourg on 20 October 2003 for an employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs Council, the first formal Council in this field to be held under the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union of the second half of 2003 (EU0307205F).

Electromagnetic fields Directive

The Council reached political agreement on a common position on the proposal for a Directive establishing minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from electromagnetic fields (EU0212205F). These provisions were originally part of a single proposal for an instrument to cover four types of physical agents – noise, vibration, electromagnetic fields and optical radiation, issued in 1992. However, due to the complexity of these four agents, the text was split into four separate proposals in 1999. Directives on vibration (2002/44/EC) and on noise (2003/10/EC) have now been adopted, in June 2002 and December 2002 respectively. The common position on the draft electromagnetic fields Directive will be formally adopted by the Council after legal and linguistic checking.

Resolution on undeclared work

Ministers also adopted a Resolution on undeclared work, within the context of the current focus of both the European employment strategy (EES) and the Italian Presidency on this issue. It is estimated that between 7% and 16% of the EU's GDP is accounted for by the informal economy. The Resolution calls on Member States to address this issue, using this Resolution as a reference framework, and to work together to improve the situation. Suggested actions include preventative measures and sanctions aimed at eliminating undeclared work.

The Resolution also invites the social partners at European level to address this issue within the context of their current multiannual work programme (EU0212206F) and to deal with it in the context of the sectoral social dialogue committees (EU0201236F). It calls on the social partners at national level to promote the declaration of economic activity, to engage in awareness-raising and to promote the simplification of the business environment, particularly in relation to small and medium-sized enterprises. Finally, the Resolution calls on the European Commission to highlight developments on the basis of the experience of Member States, in the context of the EES, and to assess methodological improvements in the description of the problem of undeclared work and monitor progress in this area.

Immigration, integration and employment

A policy debate was held on the European Commission’s Communication (COM (2203) 336 final) on immigration, integration and employment, which was issued in June 2003 (EU0307201N). This Communication reviews integration policies nationally and at EU level and looks at the role of immigration in the context of ageing populations. It also suggests ways of promoting the integration of immigrants.

All delegations welcomed the Communication as a good basis for future work, stressing that any initiatives should be taken in the framework of the Lisbon strategy (EU0004241F) and the EES, established in 1997 (EU9711168F). Some delegations pointed to the limited role of immigration in addressing labour market shortages and stressed the importance of exploiting the full resources of the internal EU labour market. However, a large majority of delegations were in favour of drawing up general principles for the integration of legal immigrants into the labour market at EU level. They also agreed that specific measures should be taken to allow for better integration of legal immigrants into the labour market, in accordance with the principle of non-discrimination, including better access to education and training.

The Council instructed the Committee of Permanent Representatives to prepare a set of conclusions to be submitted to the Council at its December meeting.

Streamlining open coordination

The Council endorsed the Social Protection Committee’s opinion on the Commission’s Communication on the streamlining of 'open coordination' in the field of social protection (ie based on the drawing up of national action plans within the framework of guidelines issued by the Commission and Council), issued in May 2003 (EU0306204N). This Communication proposes that future work on social protection interact with the EU's Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and the EES.

The Social Protection Committee proposes that a short, high-level paper setting out 'coherent and integrated policy messages reflecting key issues within the current work on social protection' be prepared to submit to the spring 2004 European Council. It stresses, however, that the Commission’s proposal to create a single reporting structure to cover the various policy fields in an integrated way should only be undertaken provided certain key concerns are met, such as maintaining a distinct public identity for the social inclusion and pensions processes.

Other issues

Other social policy issues discussed by the Council included:

  • the adoption by ministers of a set of conclusions relating to a coordinated strategy for adequate and sustainable pensions;
  • agreement on a provisional general approach on the proposal for a Regulation amending Regulation 1408/71 on coordination of social security schemes and aimed at facilitating the introduction of a European health insurance card; and
  • consensus on a general approach on the pre-retirement and family benefits chapters of the proposal for a Regulation aimed at replacing the EU's current social security coordination system. This proposal would replace and simplify the Community legislation contained in Regulation 1408/71.

Commentary

The October Council, the first formal meeting of social affairs ministers under the current Italian Presidency, was successful in moving forward the proposal on protection for workers against electromagnetic waves and progressed the debate in a number of other social policy and social security areas. However, one dossier which was notable by its absence from this Council meeting was that the proposal for a Directive on terms and conditions for temporary agency workers (EU0204205F). Ministers failed to reach agreement on a common position on this text at their June 2003 Council (EU0306207F) and it was hoped that work on this issue could be progressed during the second half of 2003 under the Italian Presidency. However, it would seem that this issue is not a high priority for the coming months. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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