Belgians Test Social Mediation Idea

European Social Policy, July 7, 2001 | Go to article overview

Belgians Test Social Mediation Idea


The Belgian Presidency will advocate the idea of a team of European Social Mediators to advise employers and employees during corporate restructuring in its six-month stint in the EU hotseat. The Belgian Minister for Employment and new President of Council Laurette Onkelinx, vetted European Social Affairs Ministers on the idea at an informal meeting in Liege on July 6 and 7. Mrs Onkelinx hopes to gather support for a system of independent European conciliators, chosen by both employers and employees, which would step in to mediate in cases of mass job cuts. "We want to see if we can get agreement on the idea, and address any fears it may raise", she said at a briefing on July 6.The other EU Ministers reacted coolly to the Belgian idea, saying it was an interesting idea, but that they would need more details on how it would work in practice, and what added value it could provide. The European Commission says that it might be feasible on an ad hoc basis, when managers and workers feel the need for out-side help. But as it could only be a non binding advisory body, it would not have much of a role in the most difficult cases when employers are ignoring EU legislation, as managers would not be willing to invite them in the first place. The mediators could have a role behind the scenes to help the European Social Partners get through difficult negotiations, such as those on temporary agency work. The UK Minister Alistair Darling said it would not be appropriate for the mediators to interpret the law, this should remain the role of courts.Ministers discussed Commission policy papers on safe and sustainable pensions and on quality jobs, two areas which the Belgian Presidency has given top priority for the coming six months. A third issue, indicators for measuring social exclusion, was also covered as bilateral meetings with Member States will begin shortly on the recently-submitted national action plans. This was discussed on July 6 between the Troika (Belgian Presidency, the future Spanish and Danish Presidencies), the Commission, the Secretary-General of the Council, the European Social Partners, the President of the Social Affairs Commission of the European Parliament, the President of the Employment Committee, and the President of the Social Protection Committee.PensionsThe modernisation of pension systems is high on the political agenda in all Member States. At the same time, there is an increasing awareness of the need to get a complete picture of the future challenges to pension

systems and the actions that need to be taken to meet these challenges. The Communication adopted by the Commission on July 3, 2001 (see separate article) will form the basis for discussions. The Communication is built around the three broad principles for securing the long-term sustainability of pension systems: safeguarding the capacity of systems to meet their social objectives, maintaining their financial sustainability and meeting changing societal needs.The EU does not have the competence to legislate on pensions, and Member States have only just begun discussing how to use the open method of co-ordination in this area. As this is a very sensitive area for some Member States, co-operation will probably be limited to the exchange of best practice, and will certainly not be as elaborate as the European Employment Strategy. There is no specific mandate for EU action on pensions in the Treaty, as there is for employment.Frank Vandenbroucke, Belgian Minister for Social Affairs and Pensions, asked Ministers if the EU should "formulate integrated objectives for pension systems on the basis of the analysis provided by the Social Protection Committee and the Commission Communication of July 3? …

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