Council reaches political agreement on framework anti-discrimination Directive

In October 2000, the EU Employment and Social Policy Council of Ministers reached political agreement on a revised text of the proposal for a framework Directive for equal treatment in employment and occupation. The Council also discussed issues such as the proposed Directive on informing and consulting workers at national level.

The meeting of the Employment and Social Policy Council of Ministers held in Luxembourg on 16–17 October 2000 was the first to be held under the current French Presidency of the Council of Ministers and had a packed agenda, in line with the Presidency's commitment to progressing a range of social policy issues (EU0006254N).

Anti-discrimination proposals

Arguably, the most significant progress was made in the form of a political agreement on the European Commission's proposal for a framework Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation, which aims to combat discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. This proposal was first issued in November 1999 (EU9912218F) as part of a package of anti-discrimination measures comprising this framework proposal, a proposed Directive aimed specifically at combating race discrimination - which was adopted on 6 June 2000 (EU0006256F) - and a proposal for an anti-discrimination action programme.

The Council reached unanimous political agreement on a compromise text after what the post-Council press release described as difficult negotiations which sought to reconcile the views of certain Member States. Formal adoption of the Directive will take place at a forthcoming Council meeting. A number of amendments to the text of the framework Directive had been suggested by the European Parliament (EP) when it discussed this proposal on 5 October. Under the decision-making procedure to which this proposal, based on Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam is subject, the Council is not obliged to accept the EP's suggested amendments. As no details of the compromise text agreed by the Council have as yet been made public, it is not clear whether any of the EP's suggested amendments have been included. Full details will be provided in an EIRO feature, once the text is published

The Council also reached political agreement on the Commission's proposal for the anti-discrimination action programme for 2001–6, following an EP opinion on 5 October. Formal adoption will take place at a future Council.

Health and safety

Political agreement was also reached on a Commission proposal modifying Directive 89/655/EEC on minimum safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment by workers at work (the second individual Directive within the meaning of Article 16 of Directive 89/391/EEC), focusing on the conditions of use of scaffolding, ladders and ropes when used for working at a height. The Council delayed adoption of a common position on this proposal (which, as a health and safety proposal, is based on Article 137(2) of the Treaty of Amsterdam and therefore subject to the co-decision procedure) in order to allow the Presidency to pursue contacts with the EP in order to reach agreement at first reading.

Information and consultation

The Presidency gave a report on progress concerning the proposed Directive on the information and consultation of workers at national level, first issued by the Commission in November 1998 (EU9812135F). This was the first time that this proposal had been discussed in Council, and a brief exchange of views was held before the Presidency invited delegates to submit their views in writing in order to allow the matter to be progressed at the 27–28 November Council.

Employment package

The Council also discussed the Commission's "employment package" for 2000–1 (EU0010276F), which comprises Employment Guidelines to Member States for 2001, an assessment of Member States' 2000 National Action Plans (s) on employment and recommendations to Member States concerning the implementation of their NAPs. The components of the Commission's latest employment package were broadly welcomed by the Council, although some delegations stressed that they would like to see certain revisions, such as a reinforcement of the role of the social partners, and an improvement in the quality of employment created. Work will continue on this dossier, with the aim of reaching agreement at the 27–28 November 2000 Employment and Social Policy Council.

Other issues

Other issues discussed at the Council included the topic of structural indicators in the areas of employment, innovation and research, economic reform and social cohesion, and the Commission's proposal for a five-year social policy agenda (EU0007266F). Finally, the Council reached political agreement on a proposal for a Directive based on the working time agreement for mobile workers in the civil aviation industry, concluded on 22 March 2000 (EU0004238N).

Commentary

The French Presidency has got off to a flying start in the social policy field by successfully reaching unanimous political agreement on the framework anti-discrimination Directive. Although adoption of its companion proposal, dealing exclusively with discrimination based on race, was unexpectedly swift, it was widely thought that agreement on this second Directive, which is wider in scope and therefore potentially more controversial, would not be reached as speedily. The fact that, under Article 13, agreement had to be unanimous was, is was widely thought, likely to impede agreement on issues such as the combating of discrimination based on age, disability and sexual orientation. However, the fact that agreement on both of these anti-discrimination proposals has been reached within less than a year of their original drafting by the Commission, attests both to the efficacy of the Portuguese and French Presidencies and to the success of Article 13 as a basis for new and far-reaching European legislation.

The French Presidency has also succeeded in finally placing a discussion of the draft Directive on national-level information and consultation of workers on the agenda of a Council meeting, almost two years after its original drafting. Although this debate was of an initial and orientational nature, there are indications that real progress on this dossier might be made at the November 2000 Employment and Social Affairs Council. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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