Employment Council discusses wide range of social issues

Europe’s employment, social policy, and health and consumer affairs ministers met on 3 October 2011 to discuss a range of social issues. These included the upcoming Tripartite Social Summit, the role of the European Social Fund in achieving Europe 2020 Strategy targets, voluntary activities and social policy in the context of the 2011 European Year of Volunteering, and how the problems posed by an ageing population might be eased by better reconciliation of work and family life.

Background

The Employment Council meeting, held in Luxembourg, discussed a range of issues including the Tripartite Social Summit, the role of the European Social Fund (ESF), voluntary work in social policy and the management of demographic challenges through better reconciliation of work and family life. Summaries of the discussions are contained in a press release (190Kb PDF).

Tripartite social summit

Ministers took stock of preparations for the upcoming Tripartite Social Summit, due to take place on 17 October 2011 shortly before the European Council meeting, which will focus on growth-enhancing measures and will finalise an economic governance package for the EU.

The Tripartite Social Summit will discuss how to enhance trust and social dialogue in order to sustain recovery and structural change in the EU.

Linking the European Social Fund to the Europe 2020 Strategy

Ministers held a debate on the future of the ESF based on a Presidency Background Paper (119KB PDF). They debated how the fund could be part of a more performance-oriented EU cohesion policy. They also noted that ESF targets should be linked to the Europe2020 strategy, but should also correspond to the specific needs and priorities of Member States at national as well as regional levels. In particular, they felt that the social fund should play an important role in helping young people to participate in the labour market.

Ministers agreed that there is a need to streamline the ESF procedures, make full use of the ESF in order to achieve the EU 2020 objectives, ensure a proper articulation of the ESF with other structural funds, target Europe’s most vulnerable groups and promote inclusion for those who do not participate in the labour market.

It should be noted that the social fund is the main funding instrument at EU level to promote employment, social inclusion and equal opportunities, and to develop skills and competences.

In the 2007–13 programming period, €75 billion has been made available to national and regional authorities from the ESF. Member States have made extensive use of ESF funding to cushion the impact of the economic crisis, prevent unemployment and reintegrate the unemployed into the labour market .

The ESF has a particular role to play in supporting several of the 2020 Strategy's flagship initiatives, such as ‘an agenda for new skills for new jobs’, ‘youth on the move’ and the ‘platform against poverty’. The ESF should also contribute to the achievement of several headline targets, notably the employment, educational attainment and poverty reduction targets.

Voluntary work in social policy

The Council adopted a set of conclusions on the role of voluntary work in social policy (43Kb PDF), in the context of 2011 being the European Year of Volunteering to promote active citizenship.

In the conclusions, ministers noted that volunteering strengthens common European values such as solidarity and social cohesion, and is crucial to the development of democratic values, human dignity, equality and subsidiarity. It also has the potential to contribute to the well-being of individuals and to the harmonious development of European societies, and can provide people with new skills and competences.

Volunteering may also improve employability, thus furthering the achievement of the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy. It can also help the transmission of knowledge, the inter-cultural dialogue and be instrumental in bridging the generation gap, addressing gender inequalities, reducing existing social barriers, intolerance and all forms of discrimination.

Reconciliation of work and family life

Finally, the Council adopted a set of conclusions on demography and the reconciliation of work and family life (117Kb PDF). Ministers noted that the EU’s population is ageing, a trend that is expected to have a significant impact on the structure of Europe's social and economic life, leading to a greater number of older people, a greater number of economically inactive people and a lower birth rate. The Council therefore believes that increasing labour market participation throughout the life cycle is needed. This could be achieved by enabling workers to better reconcile work and family life, including caring for children and other family members, and making this possible will be a vital tool in helping European society to face up to the challenges of an ageing population.

These conclusions aim to strengthen institutional cooperation in the field of reconciliation of work and family life, and to facilitate information exchange between various bodies and initiatives at both European and national level.

They also aim to strengthen existing methods of cooperation and knowledge-sharing on care systems for dependent persons, including childcare and long-term care, and to involve the social partners in looking for the best solutions to deal with the consequences of the demographic challenges.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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