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Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 22 October 2013

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 15 October 2013 in Luxembourg. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who is responsible for employment relations and consumer affairs, represented the United Kingdom (UK).

The main discussion focused on the posting of workers enforcement directive. The UK emphasised the importance of building a stronger economy to restore growth by keeping burdens, especially on small businesses, to a minimum. Having shown considerable flexibility the UK was disappointed that a general approach was not agreed between Ministers. The UK will continue to aim to ensure that the directive strikes the right balance between protecting posted workers’ rights and the effective functioning of the single market.

There was an exchange of views on youth employment in which the presidency highlighted the significant challenge of youth unemployment across the EU. The UK outlined the successes of the youth contract and discussed the importance of vocational training systems. The Council adopted its declaration on the European alliance for apprenticeships, and the minute statement outlining UK concerns on the prescriptive nature of aspects of the text and the need to respect member state competence in this area was noted.

During the lunchtime discussion, Ministers discussed the key lessons learned from last year’s European semester process. Many member states shared UK concerns over the need for greater European Commission transparency in terms of sharing the evidence base underpinning the CSRs much earlier in the process. The Employment Committee (EMCO) and Social Protection Committee (SPC) reports on the evaluation of the European semester were endorsed. The SPC report on their contribution to the annual growth survey 2014 policy priorities was also endorsed.

There was also a policy debate on the social dimension of the European monetary union. Most member states agreed in principle with the proposed scoreboard and indicators but some called for this to remain voluntary for those not in the eurozone. There was broad agreement that the European semester should remain the primary instrument for pursuing this work. The Commission concluded that there was clear support for the principle of a social dimension of the EMU but recognised that they needed to do more to explain what it means in practice for member states and what indicators needed to be included in the scoreboard.

Ministers adopted Council conclusions on the European Court of Auditors’ special report on the added value of the European globalisation adjustment fund. The Council conclusions recommend improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, and to explore alternative schemes. The UK agrees with much of the analysis in the Court’s report and with its recommendations.

Under any other business, the presidency provided updates on legislative issues and reported on the upcoming tripartite social summit meeting.