A social and competitive' Europea- this is the leitmotif that the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimir Spidla, intends to roll out in the coming months, and which he presented to social partners during the tri-party social summit on 19 and 20 October in Lisbon. "There is no absolute need to choose between the economic dimension and the social dimension, any more than between efficiency and equity, or between productivity and employment. The aim of the European employment strategy is to allow these shared concerns to be taken into account together," he affirmed during a conference on the EU's employment strategy, which took place in Lisbon on 8 and 9 October.
This represents a significant change in tone for the Barroso Commission, which is usually more in the habit of emphasising the economy and neglecting social aspects. The fact that the end of this Commission (in 2009) is steadily approaching, and its low level of achievement so far on one of the pillars of the Lisbon Strategy, have without doubt played a role in this transformation.
The Czech commissioner, who has found room for manoeuvre in the last several weeks, now appears willing to put more dynamism into the Union's employment strategy. Accordingly, he has unveiled six priorities for the EU's future social policy.
- Better quality jobs. "Low-paid jobs, the lack of skills and jobs not covered by social protection are just some of the main reasons which explain the poverty in certain categories of workers." In order to help these people break out of the poverty trap once and for all and to improve economic growth and competitiveness, better jobs have to be created and more investment made in human and social capital.
- Flexicurity. European and international economic integration, the relentless pace of new technologies, demographic ageing, average rates of employment which are still comparatively low, and a rate of long-term employment which is still far too high are "all factors which affect the sustainability of our social protection systems," similarly "increasing segmentation of the employment market in many countries, giving rise to situations in which comparatively well-protected workers work alongside other people who have insufficient protection". Therefore, the Commission wants, throughout the next cycle of integrated guidelines (2008-2010), the member states to report, in their national reform programmes, on their strategy with regard to flexicurity. The Commission will monitor the strategies in the annual progress reports and will report back on the progress made with flexicurity strategies at the end of the Lisbon …