Social Policy : Philosophy and Priorities of the German Presidency
"Joining forces for a social Europe - for a social world" is the heading under which the German Presidency of the European Union has grouped its priorities for the first six months of 2007. These priorities were presented by Franz Muntefering, the German Federal Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, to his European counterparts at the informal Council held in Berlin on 18 and 19 January. A heading, pleasing to all, which scarcely disguises the fact that the work programme focuses far more on debate than on actions.
BOOSTING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
The social dimension of Europe is of significant importance in the daily life of European citizens and plays a crucial role in the Union being accepted in member states, explained the Presidency in its programme documentation. "Faced with globalisation and with wage dumping, job migration and deteriorating social standards in the headlines, many are afraid of losing out to change. These fears must be taken seriously." For this reason, the decision by the European Council to extend the reflection period' on the Constitutional Treaty should be taken as an opportunity to win back public trust in the European project.
The Presidency also intends to associate its work "more actively" with civil society (NGOs and trade unions). "Greater involvement by and new initiatives from the social partners are essential to building a social Europe and moving towards the Lisbon objectives."
WORK QUALITY AND STANDARDS
Only two legislative dossiers feature among the objectives: reaching an agreement on the proposal for a directive on the portability of company pension schemes and to make progress on the reform of the implementing regulation on the coordination of social security schemes.
Quality of work. Following the debate during the informal Employment Council on 18 and 19 January, the Presidency of the European Union, after pursuing the employment objectives in terms of quantities, wants to focus on the quality objectives: working conditions conducive to learning; opportunities for continued training (lifelong learning); fair pay that is at least sufficient to live from; employee-centric corporate cultures; participation and co-determination; securing and safeguarding occupational safety and health.
Flexicurity'. Quality of work also includes a balance between security and flexibility ( flexicurity'). This is particularly important in new forms of employment. One of the missions of the German Presidency is thus to develop a mutual understanding or mutually agreed definition of principles relating to flexicurity building on preparatory work
done by the Austrian and Finnish Presidencies and together with the two forthcoming Portuguese and Slovenian Presidencies.
Employment. An important focus of the German Presidency is to add substance to certain employment policy initiatives: improving training opportunities for young people with immigrant backgrounds or with poor qualifications (European Youth Pact); reducing pay differentials between men and women and improving conditions for parents of small children (European Pact for Gender Equality); systematically integrating older workers into the jobs market ( active ageing') to enable longer working lives; employment of disadvantaged individuals and groups, notably people with disabilities. …