Danish Presidency sets out social and employment objectives
The Danish government, which holds the Presidency of the European Council for the first six months of 2012, has set out its main priorities in the field of employment and social affairs, and good progress is expected. They include strengthening the enforcement of the posted workers directive, progression of the proposal for a directive on equal treatment outside the workplace and the proposal to amend the directive on electromagnetic waves to protect specific workers.
Strengthening enforcement of posted workers directive
The Commission has been looking into the posting of workers as part of a review of the posted workers directive (Directive 96/71/EC), which dates from 1996. The Danish Presidency states that a proposal to strengthen the enforcement of the directive will be a priority.
It will also aim to improve collaboration between authorities in the Member States and increase the enforcement of sanctions if foreign companies fail to apply the directive. This should increase the protection of posted workers and prevent social dumping. The overall aim, according to the Danish Presidency, is to increase both worker protection and freedom of movement.
Clarification of freedom of movement and workers’ rights
The Danish Presidency also intends to issue a proposal to clarify the relationship between economic rights of the EU, particularly the right to free movement, and fundamental rights, especially in the case of trade unions in relation to foreign companies.
It will state that these rights are of equal importance, and neither should be favoured over the other in a dispute between a company and a trade union in another country. It maintains that this is a clarification of the present EU rules about the rights of trade unions as set out in the Treaty of Lisbon.
Directive on electromagnetic fields
The proposal on electromagnetic fields, issued by the Commission in June 2011 to amend the existing Directive 2004/40/EC, will also be progressed. The directive is concerned with the very large electromagnetic fields found in certain workplaces, typically where much power is consumed. The proposal aims to amend the directive to protect workers such as doctors and nurses working with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning machines, people working with radar, workers repairing power lines and welders.
It also updates the current exposure limits in line with new scientific research, particularly in relation to acceptable exposure limits to MRI in hospitals. This would also help employers to carry out risk assessments.
The Danish Presidency will also focus on progressing the 2008 proposal (COM (2008) 246) issued by the Commission on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment regardless of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, which is to be applied in areas outside the labour market.
Europe 2020 Strategy and the European Semester
The European Semester is an economic policy coordination tool launched at the beginning of 2011. It is a six-month period every year when Member States’ budgetary and structural policies are reviewed to detect inconsistencies and imbalances. Each March the European Council will identify the main economic challenges facing the EU and give advice on policies. The Member States will then present their medium-term budgetary strategies in April, and draw up national reform programmes setting out how to strengthen policies in areas such as employment and social inclusion. On the basis of these programmes, the European Council will provide policy advice in July, before Member States finalise their budgets for the following year.
The Danish Presidency wishes to ensure the work within the European Semester runs as efficiently as possible, enabling Member States to reach common goals on increased employment and social inclusion.
EU programme for social development and innovation
The Danish Presidency also intends to focus on the Commission’s EU Programme for Social Change and Innovation, which is a combination of three existing instruments:
- the PROGRESS programme, to ensure a common effort and efficient policy coordination between Member States on employment and social policy;
- EURES (European Employment Services), to increase transparency in the labour market by making vacancies available in the EURES job mobility portal;
- the European Progress Microfinance Facility, to help the unemployed back into work through microcredit loans, enabling them to set up their own business.
The next six months are likely to see progress in several areas of employment and social policy regulation. In particular, the proposal to amend the posted workers directive will be eagerly awaited as a number of studies on its implementation and enforcement in EU Member States have been carried out over the past couple of years.
Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies