The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 3 October 2011 in Luxembourg. Andy Lebrecht, UK deputy permanent representative to the European Union, represented the UK.
The first item on the agenda was a policy debate on the future shape of the European social fund (ESF) and its role in the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy. The Commission confirmed that it would publish its draft regulation on the ESF in 2014-2020 later in the week. The presidency stressed that it was vital to strengthen the role of the ESF in cohesion policy. Member states agreed that the ESF should contribute in helping to achieve Europe 2020 targets and that ESF should be more efficient and targeted at the most disadvantaged. For the UK, Andy Lebrecht intervened to stress the need to focus EU resources on the less developed member states, to improve value for money, and that ESF should add value to national investment in employment and skills. The UK also raised concerns about the effectiveness and added value of the European globalisation fund.
The second item on the agenda was a report from the presidency on preparations for the tripartite social summit which will take place on 17 October 2011.
The Council also adopted Council conclusions on the role of voluntary work in social policy and managing demographic changes.
Under any other business, a debate on the EU Aid for the Needy scheme took place. France and Slovenia had circulated a joint paper asking Employment Ministers to lobby their agriculture counterparts to agree a short-term continuation of the programme, which would allow food to be sourced from the open market as well as from increasingly limited intervention stocks, and to introduce an element of co-financing. The Commission reiterated its support for the scheme and indicated that it would table a revised proposal with a dual cohesion and agriculture legal base, reverting to 100% EU funding. A number of member states expressed support for the scheme and the Commission’s efforts to find a solution. The UK, along with Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden stressed that measures such as these should be delivered at national level. A Europe wide scheme raised competence issues and was not as effective as national measures. The presidency noted the positions in Council and would send a note on the discussions to the Agriculture Council.
The other items under any other business were reports on Polish presidency conferences and the EPSCO informal which took place in July. The presidency also reported on preparations for the first annual convention of the European platform against poverty and social exclusion which takes place in October. The French reported back on the G20 labour and employment Ministers which took place in Paris and the Germans reported back on the meeting of an informal ministerial group on employment and social policy which took place in Potsdam.