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Volume 300: debated on Monday 10 November 1997

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans he has for maximising (a) employment levels and (b) employability across the European Union. [14421]

Unemployment is Europe's most acute problem. A special European Council (the "Jobs Summit") is to take place in Luxembourg on 20/21 of this month, and my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will attend for the UK. The main challenge for the Jobs Summit is to produce agreement on the areas where Member States should be taking measures to tackle unemployment and to promote a high and sustainable level of employment. The Summit will discuss draft Employment Guidelines, which are required under the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty. The Guidelines are central to the efforts of Member States and the EU in the field of employment. We shall want the agreed Guidelines to reflect the paramount importance of employability and job creation. The Commission's draft, published on 1 October, provides a good basis for discussion in it's key themes of adaptability, employability, entrepreneurship, and equal opportunities. We shall want the Summit to commit Member States to take positive action which can be realised during our Presidency and carried forward in the Presidencies that follow.

The UK Presidency of the Council in the first half of next year gives us a real opportunity to shift the European agenda in a new direction. Our intention is for the Presidency in the Social Affairs and Education fields to have employability as a key, shared theme. There will be a joint informal Council meeting in London next March of next year, formal Councils later in the Presidency and a range of key conferences. Education and Social Affairs Ministers across Europe will be working together and we will be looking to engage many people in our discussions and in taking work forward.

The Presidency will encompass work on lifelong learning and on innovative ways of tackling unemployment and combating social exclusion. Following the Jobs Summit we intend to set the framework for the Community's new education and training programmes and to focus on the role of the member states and the Community in improving skill levels. During our Presidency we intend to shift the European agenda decisively and to make a concrete start in giving people the skills and adaptability needed for successful careers in the flexible labour markets which are a key part of ensuring the competitiveness of Europe.