The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 17 June 2011 in Luxembourg. I represented the United Kingdom.
In the first discussion on country specific recommendations (CSRs), the Commission recalled that its annual growth survey had shown that recovery was under way, but it was uneven and could be reversed. Without fundamental reforms, any progress remained on shaky ground. The CSRs were an integral part of the Europe 2020 strategy and gave an in-depth analysis of the reforms needed in each member state. They were a tool for improving economic reform without infringing on member state sovereignty. For the UK, I highlighted the difficulties linked to the time frame and process and stressed that this should be improved in future years. I also put down a parliamentary scrutiny reserve. The presidency noted that a general approach could be adopted, and recalled reserves from some member states.
The second discussion focused on demographic change and effective family policies. A number of member states intervened, stressing the importance of providing support for parents in the workplace to ensure they could reconcile work and family life, for example through flexible working opportunities, prevention of gender stereotyping, and proper enforcement of equal treatment legislation. The Commission also thought that this should be a priority issue.
There were three progress reports. On the pregnant workers directive, the Commission acknowledged it would be difficult for member states to accept the European Parliament amendments and proposed going forward on the basis of a “passerelle” clause. There was very little support for this and I along with some other member states warned against progressing towards a common position. On the co-ordination of social security systems, I tabled a minute statement together with 12 other member states, on the relationship between the social security co-ordination regulation and the free movement directive. This stressed the importance of achieving a clear and coherent understanding of the relationship between the two at the European level, and suggested that amendments to the current legislative framework could be needed to achieve this. On the equal treatment directive, the presidency reported progress on its examination of the proposal based on a questionnaire focusing on national legislation.
Three sets of Council conclusions were adopted. These were on promoting youth employment to achieve the Europe 2020 objectives, reconciling work and family life in the context of demographic change, and tackling child poverty and promoting child well-being.
Under any other business, the Hungarian presidency reported on conferences they have hosted and provided information on social and employment related aspects of the legal migration directives. The Commission reported on the United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities and also presented a new proposal amending the existing electromagnetic fields directive. The Cypriot delegation provided information on the forum on the future of democracy. The French delegation introduced their G20 priorities for social and employment. The incoming Polish presidency presented their presidency priorities.