The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 17 February 2012 in Brussels. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who is responsible for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, represented the United Kingdom.
There were two discussions at this Council. The first was a debate on women on company boards. The Commission presented the economic case for greater diversity on company boards and stated that progress to date was poor. It outlined its intention to take stock and consider possible measures including the need for quotas. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk intervened to stress that the UK did not favour quotas. Instead the UK preferred positive measures such as putting pressure on companies to set their own targets; requiring companies to disclose information on gender balance; and making changes to training and mentoring. He further highlighted that the significant recent increase in women on UK company boards proved that such measures work.
The second debate was on the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy in the field of employment and social policy. It centred on a set of Council conclusions on the joint employment report priorities for action. Member states acknowledged the challenging economic and social climate and emphasised the importance of tackling youth unemployment. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk intervened to set out details of the UK youth contract, which would provide nearly half a million work places for young people. He also emphasised the importance of removing barriers to participation in the labour market through welfare reform, generating skills through apprenticeships and reducing burden on business through smart regulation.
The Council also adopted conclusions on priorities for action in the areas of employment and social policies and the joint employment report. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk abstained on behalf of the UK on parliamentary scrutiny grounds.
Under any other business the Commission stated that it had taken due note of the intention of nine member states including the UK to retain transitional arrangements for Bulgarian and Romanian workers. The presidency provided information on the preparation of the tripartite social summit. The Commission and presidency provided information on preparation for the G20 meeting of Labour and Employment Ministers; and on the Euro-Mediterranean employment and labour high level working group. Finally, the Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee chairs provided information on their work programmes for 2012.
My statement of 9 February 2012 ahead of the Employment and Social Affairs Council referred to a discussion about proposals related to posting of workers. That discussion was removed from the final Council agenda.