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Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2006

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 1 June in Luxembourg. The Minister with responsibility for disabled people, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Anne McGuire), represented the UK, except for the item on the Working Time directive, where the UK was represented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Health and Consumer Affairs issues were taken on 2 June.

There was a policy debate on the review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy. The presidency noted a consensus that there should be a synergy between work on social inclusion and poverty and the Lisbon Agenda for growth and jobs. Child poverty and the global dimension were particularly important features. My hon. Friend the Minister stressed the importance of the agenda for growth and jobs. This offered the best route out of poverty; but we must be sure to give people the tools they need to take it and overcome poverty of ambition. She agreed with several ministerial colleagues that there was no need for a new process or elaborate new indicators.

The Commission gave a presentation on its recent Communication on Social Services of General Interest and explained that the next stage is consultation with Member States and stakeholders.

The Council reached agreement on a partial general approach on the first part of a new Implementing Regulation for 883/04 on Social Security for Migrant Workers. The UK maintained its Parliamentary Scrutiny reserve. A partial general approach was also agreed on amendments to Annex XI Regulation 883/04.

The Council reached political agreement on a Regulation establishing a European Institute for Gender Equality. The Commission made a declaration to the minutes stating that it would have preferred a smaller administrative board. The UK lifted its Parliamentary Scrutiny reserve.

The Council adopted conclusions on Women's Health as part of the follow up to the Beijing Platform for Action. The conclusions invite Member States and the Commission to integrate gender health considerations into health policies with particular emphasis on the three indicators (Healthy life years, Access to health care (unmet demand) and Cardio-Vascular Diseases) proposed by the Austrian presidency.

The joint contribution of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee on the concept of ‘Flexicurity' (balance between flexibility and security) was endorsed by the Council.

The presidency gave a progress report on the proposal for a directive on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. A number of delegations intervened and my hon. Friend the Minister stated that there is a need to strike the right balance between mobility and maintaining the viability of pension provisions and supporting the view that there should be a broad application of any directive

The Council reached political agreement on the amended proposal for a decision establishing a Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity—PROGRESS. This is the EU-level spending programme for the period 2007-13, which will provide financial support for the implementation of the Community's objectives for employment and social affairs and the achievement of Lisbon goals.

The Council reached political agreement without discussion on the annual Employment Guidelines on the proposal for a Council Decision on Guidelines for the Employment Policies of the Member States.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry represented the UK for discussions on the amended proposal for a directive concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time. Negotiations revolved around the opt-out from the 48 hour working week. The presidency sought views at the lunchtime discussion on a presidency text. In the second session, it tabled a revised compromise proposal which was not agreed. The presidency introduced its final compromise in the final session, which many Member States argued they could not support, some because the text did not phase out the opt out and some, including the UK, who felt proposals for restrictions and limitations on the opt out went too far. The Council failed to reach political agreement.

The Council received information from the presidency about a Regulation on the Globalisation Adjustment Fund and about various presidency conferences. The Council also received information on Commission Communications on the Posting of Workers, Corporate Social Responsibility, Decent Work and the European Year of Equal Opportunities in 2007.