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EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 9 October 2008

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Kitty Ussher) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 2 October 2008 in Luxembourg. The UK was represented by James Plaskitt (Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Commons) and Pat McFadden (Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform).

There was a policy debate on the Commission's proposal for a directive banning discrimination in the access to goods and services on grounds of religion, belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. James Plaskitt said that the UK strongly supports the aims of this directive, believing that a new directive could contribute to a fairer and therefore stronger Europe, and highlighting that the UK already had comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in place. All member states said that a number of issues required further discussion and the presidency concluded that there was a general consensus to commence discussions of the detail.

The council received a report from the presidency on the progress that had been made on the European works councils directive since July, when the Commission had first proposed to amend it. Agreement by the EU social partners on a version of the Commission's proposal provided a basis for agreement in the council and prospects for an early agreement look favourable.

An interim report from the flexicurity mission on best practice in balancing increased labour market participation with worker protection was outlined by the Commission. The presidency concluded that there were useful common principles but that tailored solutions were needed. The Czechs said that this would be a priority for their presidency, with the focus on lifelong learning and social protection. The final flexicurity mission report will be presented to council in December.

A partial general approach was agreed by the council on two chapters of the implementing regulation for social security co-ordination 883/04 covering benefits for work injuries and illnesses and death, and administrative provisions.

The council also adopted an agreement establishing a European year for combating poverty in 2010.

Under any other business, the Commission reported on progress with an electronic data exchange system to help to administer the social security co-ordination regulation and on a recent summit on the Roma. The presidency also reported on the equal opportunities summit held in Paris in September and on the good progress that has been made with the migration directives on entry for skilled workers and sanctions against illegal employment.

The presidency outlined its plans for a tripartite social summit before the next European Council, the theme of which would be the impact of climate change on employment and social cohesion.