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EU: Employment and Social Policy Ministers’ Meeting

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 16 July 2009

Statement

The informal meeting of employment and social policy Ministers took place on 8 to 9 July 2009 in Jonkoping, Sweden. I represented the United Kingdom.

The theme of this informal meeting was labour market inclusion looking ahead to post-2010. The informal looked at maintaining employment and promoting mobility, upgrading skills and matching with labour market needs and increasing access to employment. Working time was also discussed over a Ministers-only lunch which I attended.

In the opening session, member states agreed on the importance of active social security and labour market policies. They stressed the importance of ensuring help for those moving between jobs and those already outside the labour market. While the crisis tested member states' resolve to conduct further reforms, now was the time to prepare Europe for the economy of the future.

Following on from the opening session, the meeting was split into three workshops, each devoted to a specific challenge: workshop 1—managing the impact of the financial crisis by increasing access to employment, workshop 2—facilitating access to employment by efficient reforms in the labour market and workshop 3 —increasing employment through an active social security policy. I participated in workshop 3 to present the UK approach to the reform of incapacity benefit and said that reform was ongoing. Other member states warned against repeating the mistakes of the past that caused long-term structural damage to economies.

The presidency concluded that it saw these discussions as feeding into its work on the post-2010 Strategy. The Commission concurred. While the current Lisbon strategy remained the right framework for action, its forthcoming revision would need to take better account of the social dimension. The Commission would set out initial views in its forthcoming consultation document.

The meeting concluded with a private Ministers-only lunch discussion on the working time directive. Following the failure of negotiations on the directive, some member states insisted that any new proposal would need to deal with the opt-out. The UK along with Germany, Poland and others disagreed. A few member states urged caution and saw no point in proceeding if failure was clear from the outset. The Commission underlined the need to respect European Union law. Preliminary discussions would be needed with the European Parliament before deciding how to proceed. The presidency concluded that the majority of member states use the opt-out but that a way forward would need to be found.