Commission issues 2012 work programme

The European Commission issued its 2012 work programme in mid-November 2011, in which it sets out its priorities in the employment and social affairs field for 2012. Key issues it will focus on include restructuring, flexicurity and the labour market, in the context of an ongoing challenging economic environment. The Commission makes it clear that youth unemployment remains one of the most pressing challenges the Union faces and aims to address this with various actions.

In its Commission Work Programme 2012: delivering European renewal (56Kb PDF), the Commission recognises the huge challenges the EU faces, and states that it has:

‘juggled the need to respond to urgent new needs that became apparent as a result of the crisis, and the ongoing need to work on structural issues where policy-makers, investors and citizens rely on the Commission to look beyond the immediate and help shape a prosperous and sustainable Europe for the future. Creating sustainable growth, high levels of employment and a fair society are cited as key and ongoing priorities for the EU.

Most specifically, the Commission cites job creation as one of Europe’s greatest challenges. Specific policy measures to be undertaken during 2012, detailed in an annex to the work programme (287Kb PDF), are outlined below.

Youth unemployment

Youth unemployment remains one of the most pressing challenges facing EU policymakers. The Commission states that it intends to set out how the EU can contribute to addressing the ‘scourge of youth unemployment’, including action to promote the mobility of young job-seekers and assist them in identifying cross-border openings.

The Commission will issue an umbrella communication linked to the employment package, setting out its contribution to a growth and job-rich economy, building on the Youth on the Move (1Mb PDF) and An agenda for new skills and jobs (104Kb PDF) strategies, and linking in with the orientations of the 2012 Annual Growth Survey.

The Commission will also issue a proposal to reform the European Employment Services (EURES). It wants to improve access to employment opportunities and facilitate job creation, by establishing EURES as a tool to match, place and recruit workers across Europe, thereby encouraging labour mobility. It will also expand the service to support the new ‘Your First EURES Job’ scheme, and reflect ECJ jurisprudence on placement services.


The Commission states that it will, with close involvement of the social partners, review the flexicurity principles and launch a new phase in their implementation. It is intended that this will foster job creation and mobility, as a way to soften the impact of economic downturns and prepare to exploit the recovery when it comes.

This will take the form of a non-legislative communication, aimed at highlighting the key role of flexicurity policies in the current economic climate. It will also set out concrete proposals to strengthen the different components of flexicurity, to address the economic challenges Europe is facing, with a view to reducing labour market segmentation and supporting labour market transitions.


A need to better anticipate and manage company restructurings is recognised by the Commission. To this end, it issued a Green Paper on restructuring in January 2012 (EU1201041I), in which it identifies successful practices and policies in the field of restructuring and adaptation to change in order to promote employment, growth and competitiveness. The Green Paper takes into account recent work by the European Commission, the social partners, Member States and other stakeholders. The goal is to look afresh at this policy debate in the light of the lessons learned from the economic downturn. The Green Paper opens a consultation that will run until the end of March 2012.

Gender equality

The Commission will issue a recommendation that aims to improve gender balance on the boards of companies listed on stock exchanges. The Commission states that as well as being a fundamental right, gender equality is crucial for the EU’s growth and competitiveness. 2011 saw a considerable amount of debate on this issue in European institutions (EU1109021I).

Health and safety

In the area of health and safety, the Commission states that it will issue a new communication in 2012 that will focus on enhancing occupational safety and health (OSH) governance at EU level, particularly focusing on:

  • the establishment of national OSH strategies;
  • the coordination of Member State policies;
  • improving implementation of the EU legal framework on OSH; and
  • promoting health and safety in the workplace, by supporting Member States’ efforts through European and awareness-raising initiatives.

Other relevant initiatives in 2012

The Commission aims to launch the following range of initiatives during 2012 that are relevant to employment and social policy.

  • A legislative proposal to provide seafarers with the same or equivalent level of employment rights as onshore workers. The proposal, which will cover several Directives, will aim to ensure an equivalent level of protection while taking into account the particular circumstances and the economic environment of this sector.
  • The conclusion of negotiations on legislation aimed at protecting the supplementary pension rights of people who change jobs. In particular, this would aim to address the issue of vesting periods (the duration of employment before pension rights are irrevocably granted).
  • A legislative initiative aimed at improving the enforceability of Council Regulation 1612/1968 (codified by Regulation 492/2011) on freedom of movement for workers within the Union. It will remove existing barriers to mobility of EU workers by enhancing the enforcement of rights conferred by EU law and providing information and legal support to migrants facing discrimination based on nationality.
  • A recommendation to support the EU and Member States’ efforts to tackle child poverty. This will set out common principles for effective policy intervention in terms of support to families, services (childcare, education, healthcare, housing, social services), and participation in society.


The current year promises to be a challenging one for the European Union, as the impact of the economic crisis continues to reverberate around the region. The focus of the Commission in terms of employment and social policy, for the coming year, is to try to face up to these challenges by strengthening the labour market response, particularly in the case of young workers, encouraging the anticipation and management of restructuring and promoting flexicurity.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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