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

Volume 715: debated on Monday 7 December 2009


My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 30 November and 1 December in Brussels. The Health and Consumer Affairs part of the council was taken on 1 December. I represented the UK.

At the meeting, the council was unable to reach agreement on the application of patients’ rights in the cross-border healthcare directive. This issue will be discussed further under the Spanish presidency.

Ministers received a progress report from the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Control. There was also a discussion on lessons learnt from the EU-level response to the H1N1 pandemic.

A council recommendation on smoke-free environments and council conclusions on alcohol and health, e-Health and innovative incentives for effective antibiotics were adopted. The presidency also provided an update on progress of the proposals in the pharmaceutical package.

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 30 November and 1 December 2009 in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom on all employment and social policy items on 30 November, except for the intervention on gender equality: strengthening growth and employment, where the United Kingdom was represented by my right honourable friend Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal and Minister for Women and Equality. Health business was taken on 1 December 2009.

The first discussion and main item of the agenda was the council policy debate on recovering from the financial crisis and preparing for the post-2010 Lisbon strategy. The presidency stressed that work was the best way out of social exclusion and also promoted health and wealth. I intervened to note the domestic measures taken by the UK to tackle the crisis, including the focus on minimising youth unemployment and keeping people close to the labour market, extra staff and funding for Jobcentre Plus and help for lone parents. I also underlined the need to learn from the mistakes of previous recessions, when the early retirement or placing on disability benefits of workers created significant long-term employment issues.

The second policy debate of the meeting was on gender equality, strengthening growth and employment. The presidency stressed the importance of equality issues being fully considered both in short-term responses to the recession and as part of the longer-term post-Lisbon strategy. For the UK, Harriet Harman stressed the importance of recognising skills of men and women alike in the workplace, and believed that gender should be at the heart of the work of the EU, not just in terms of growth and employment policy but across the board. The Minister called for more joint working by women Ministers in order to put forward the gender equality agenda and looked ahead to the EU playing a strong role in the creation of the UN’s new “gender entity”.

The council adopted council conclusions on: promoting labour market inclusion—recovering from the crisis and preparing for the post-2010 Lisbon strategy; healthy and dignified ageing; gender equality—strengthening growth and employment; and on the follow-up of the implementation by the member states and the EU institutions of the Beijing platform of action. The council similarly endorsed Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee opinions on the post-2010 Lisbon agenda.

Political agreement was reached unanimously by the council on the revised social partner framework agreement on parental leave, and the ILO’s work in fishing convention, after the Commission circulated a minute statement clarifying that member states do not need to ratify this convention.

After some debate, the council achieved political agreement on the directive on equal treatment of the self-employed and the directive was adopted by qualified majority. Hungary, Germany and the UK abstained: Hungary because of the legal base, the UK because of concerns that some aspects of the directive were not in line with the general principle that member states should decide how best to provide social protection, and Germany on both counts. The directive will now return to the European Parliament with a view to achieving a second reading agreement.

Finally, the council also adopted without comment a progress report on implementing equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (the anti-discrimination directive).

Under other business, the presidency and the Czech delegation summarised several recent conferences and the Spanish delegation outlined the central themes of their presidency, noting that job creation and social cohesion would be amongst them.

There was no formal discussion over lunch.