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Employment and Social Policy Ministers Meeting

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

The Employment and Social Policy informal meeting was held on 5 to 7 July in Guimarães, Portugal. I represented the UK.

The theme of the informal was “Improving Policies, Improving Results”, which was discussed in two plenary sessions. The discussions were informed by a paper presented by Maria João Rodrigues, who was involved in the formulation of the Lisbon strategy during the last Portuguese presidency.

Ministers discussed what the future priorities of the Lisbon strategy should be and how to make the Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) work better. There was broad agreement that the Lisbon goals were the right ones, and that next year’s review should avoid major changes to the strategy, as continuity was needed and would enable comparisons over time. Ministers believed that the focus should be on proper implementation and better exchange of good practice. A number of member states did call for greater prominence to be given to the social dimension of Lisbon. On behalf of the UK, I made it clear that we should not re-open the employment guidelines and that the focus should remain on jobs and growth. I also emphasised that we needed to do more to tackle skills issues as this is the key to helping people into work and ensuring their progression.

In terms of process, most felt the OMC was a success. There was broad agreement that there should be no new instruments or processes. Suggestions for areas of greater focus were: education, skills and lifelong learning; making flexicurity work; increasing labour market participation (including active ageing, work-life balance, gender equality, childcare provision); fighting child poverty; making mobility in the EU work; and tackling the social impacts of migration.

Germany also suggested a one-off “European Social Day” where, for example, Parliaments across the EU could discuss the EU’s contribution to social policies on the same day. The idea received considerable support.

The presidency concluded that the revised Lisbon process had improved the focus on employment but the meeting had highlighted the need to: have greater co-ordination of policy approaches; improve the integration and visibility of social priorities; and a balanced approach to flexicurity.