European Parliament keen to strengthen social dimension of EU employment guidelines

On 8 February 2008, the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs published a draft report in response to the European Commission’s proposal on the employment guidelines for 2008–2010, to be adopted by the Council of the European Union. The draft report proposes amendments designed to strengthen the social dimension of the employment guidelines. A final version of the report is due in May 2008


In 2005, the Lisbon Strategy was re-launched and organised around three-year cycles. One of the instruments to be used to implement the strategy involves a set of integrated – but legally non-binding – guidelines for the economic policies of the EU and its Member States, with the employment guidelines being an essential part of these. All of the guidelines expire at the end of each three-year cycle, and need to be renewed for the next cycle. As the first three-year cycle covered the period 2005–2007, new guidelines now have to be agreed for the period 2008–2010. Before the Council of the European Union can finally adopt employment guidelines, the European Parliament, as well as other institutions such as the Employment Committee (EMCO) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), has to be consulted.

Employment guidelines proposal

In December 2007, the European Commission put forward its proposal for a Council decision on employment guidelines (243Kb PDF), which concluded that the existing employment guidelines should remain largely unchanged until 2010 and that the focus should rather be on implementation of the current guidelines during the next three-year period. Moreover, the proposal suggests that the priorities for action, which ‘the Member States’ policies shall foster in a balanced manner’, should continue to be full employment, improving quality and productivity at work, as well as strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion. At the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) meeting (239Kb PDF) on 29 February 2008, EU employment ministers informally agreed on this position on the basis of the proposal forwarded by the Permanent Representatives Committee (166Kb PDF).

The final version of the Parliament’s report on the issue is due in May 2008. As the Parliament’s position has to be formally taken into consideration by the Council before its decision – although it is not binding – this will nevertheless ensure that the official adoption of the employment guidelines by the Council is postponed until the 2008 Autumn Summit.

Draft parliament report on employment guidelines

On 8 February 2008, a draft report on the proposal for a Council decision on the guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States (175Kb PDF) was published by the Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, including an ‘explanatory statement’ by the rapporteur Anne van Lancker. Despite approving the Commission paper in general, specific amendments were proposed which aim to strengthen the social dimension of the employment guidelines and increase its visibility in the guidelines.

In her explanatory statement, Ms van Lancker argues ‘that the renewed Lisbon Strategy is not delivering for all European citizens’. For this reason, the Parliament demands that special attention should be paid to:

  • early school leavers;
  • youth unemployment;
  • unemployment of non-EU nationals;
  • the poverty risk of EU citizens – including the ‘working poor’.

Furthermore, the statement notes that ‘the renewed Lisbon Strategy may have delivered more jobs but not always better jobs’. Referring to recent Eurostat statistics – dealing, for example, with involuntary fixed-term employment contracts – the statement concludes that ‘these figures show that Member States are currently not working towards a balanced “flexicurity” approach’. Therefore, strong support has been given to the request by the European Spring Council 2007 ‘that the common social objectives of the Member States should be better taken into account within the Lisbon agenda’. In addition, an ‘ambitious renewed Social Agenda’ as part of the Lisbon Strategy is demanded for mid 2008 – one which ‘should contain clear commitments to strengthen the European social aquis’.

Consistently, a list of specific amendments is proposed which should help to remedy the deficiencies identified in the Commission’s proposal. The most relevant of these amendments concern a more balanced approach towards flexicurity – by explicitly introducing key components of such an approach into the guidelines – and the introduction of a clause on active inclusion.


It remains to be seen whether the Parliament’s final report will include substantial changes to the abovementioned draft report or whether it will maintain its position that a strengthened social dimension of the Lisbon Strategy is needed. Due to the fact that the European Parliament currently only has to be ‘consulted’, the question remains as to whether the Parliament’s position will influence the final employment guidelines for 2008–2010.

Rainer Trinczek, Technical University Munich

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