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Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

Volume 489: debated on Friday 13 March 2009

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 9 March 2009 in Brussels. I represented the UK for the first item of the agenda (Preparation for the Spring European Council) while all other agenda items were represented by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden). There were no health or consumer affairs issues.

This was a straightforward Council with the main agenda item being input to the spring European Council. Ministers adopted key messages, the Joint Employment Report 2008-09 and the Joint Report on Social Protection, and reached a general approach on a decision on the employment guidelines. The Commission outlined its communication of 4 March on driving european recovery, and the chairs of the Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee outlined their views of what was needed.

In the policy debate that followed, I intervened to stress that some European labour markets had not helped all groups sufficiently and we all need to strengthen employment and welfare policies, maintaining efforts for the most disadvantaged and also avoiding protectionism. Most interventions from other member states concentrated on these themes, with also calls for the London summit not to overlook employment and social issues, and some discussion of handling of the EU Jobs and Social summit on 7 May, on which the presidency will update member states shortly. The Council also adopted related conclusions on new skills for new jobs, and on worker mobility and free movement.

The Council also held a general policy debate based on revision of the directive on pregnant workers. For the UK, my right hon. Friend stressed that the UK had made significant improvements to maternity pay and leave in recent years and that any change to raise the European minimum standards should not undermine national policies. The UK’s experience showed the success of a system developed in consultation with employers and workers. The Commission concluded on the need for further work and the presidency agreed to take forward.

The presidency presented a progress report on the negotiations on Commission proposals to revise the Regulation on the European Globalisation (Adjustment) Fund, noting that further discussion are needed in COREPER.

Under other business, the chairs of the Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee outlined their work plans for 2009. The presidency also summarised three of their recent conferences: Childcare and Employment; Potential of Migrants; and Enlargement Five Years After.

At the lunch, the presidency gave Ministers an update on preparations for working time conciliation. The Council also formally rejected the European Parliament’s Second Reading amendments as an “A” point.