The employment and social policy informal meeting was held on 10 to 11 July 2008 in Chantilly, France. I represented the UK.
The theme of the informal meeting was “Revising the European Social Agenda”. This provided the chance to discuss the Commission’s social package, which was launched at the beginning of July 2008.
The meeting started with a Ministers only breakfast meeting looking at ideas to make social Europe more concrete and closer to its citizens. A “social Europe week” and a common declaration from all member states of the EU’s “social offer/deal” to its citizens were some of the ideas raised.
There were three plenary sessions, each devoted to specific challenges linked to social Europe: the impacts of climate change and globalization, of changing demographic structures and the fights against poverty and discrimination. There was broad support by all delegations for the Commission’s renewed social agenda and interesting discussions on poverty and active inclusion in particular. For the UK, I pledged broad support for the new proposals whilst highlighting some of the areas which would need further work. I raised the challenges posed by financial exclusion and the further possible useful work at a European level in this area. Other member states welcomed this positive statement on anti-discrimination and thought the financial exclusion point was a good example of specific problems needing concrete answers and they were willing to discuss further.
An innovation by the presidency was the introduction of web chats at the end of each plenary session. The public had been invited to put questions to Ministers via the French presidency website and these were answered by whichever Minister chose to.
I answered a question on active ageing, pointing out the economic implications, the importance of skills, the need to exchange information and best practice and the challenges of anti discrimination. I met bilaterally with Ministers from Denmark, Sweden, and Italy, and I hope that the new Italian Minister will visit the UK in the autumn and see a Jobcentre Plus office. I was also able to discuss with the French High Commissioner for Active Solidarity against Poverty, Martin Hirsch, UK views on EU social experimentation, including the trans-national pilot projects which we believe can offer significant new insights in the field of social inclusion.