The Informal Meeting of Employment and Social Policy Ministers took place on 28 to 29 January 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. I represented the United Kingdom.
The priority for this informal meeting was to develop and deepen reflections on the employment strategy and social security issues under the post-2010 Lisbon strategy (EU 2020). This was accomplished through three plenary sessions.
The first session concentrated on the “crisis exit, and the maintenance of employment and inclusive labour markets”. The presidency emphasised the need to ensure that employment and social issues were properly addressed in EU 2020, although it was vital that these were considered in the wider economic context. During the discussion, member states stressed: the need for flexible labour markets alongside security for workers including active intervention to help those furthest from labour markets, especially women and the young; the importance of mainstreaming gender equality especially in the light of the demographic challenges of an ageing society affecting the whole European Union; and the focus on green jobs. I explained that the recent UK proposal for an EU Compact on Jobs and Growth supported the objective of more inclusive labour markets and investment in training, skills and education. I stressed that more collaboration on making work pay and pension reform will be important factors, and highlighted the need to work across all sectors of the European Council.
The second session focused on “new skills and changes in employment”. The presidency stressed the importance of investing in “human capital”; encouraging lifelong learning which would enhance the employability of workers. The delegations were in agreement that access to training was vital throughout working life, and that vocational training could often be more appropriate than academic. While the importance of developing skills in new sectors was emphasised, there was awareness that it could be difficult to predict the final impact of the recession, and that it would be important to ensure workers had transferable skills, making them more flexible and adaptable.
In the final session, “Social Security and social cohesion”, the presidency had asked how the European Union should approach social security strategy in the future.
Delegations argued for better use of the Open Method of Co-ordination and wanted advice from the International Labour Organisation, such as the Decent Work Agenda, to be considered wherever relevant.
On pensions, many thought that this would continue to be a key issue throughout the European Union and that work was needed to assess the sustainability of pensions systems and how these had been affected by the crisis. Delegations were looking forward to the Council conclusions on this topic to be presented at the Employment and Social Policy Council in June, although some emphasised that future work must take account of the different systems in the member states rather than being a standard, generalised model.
In conclusion, the presidency agreed that a summary of the debate would be presented to Employment and Social Policy Council in March and then sent on to the European Council.