Select Committee on European Scrutiny Third Report



European Social Agenda.

Legal base:
Document originated: 28 November 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 29 November 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 19 December 2000
Department: Education and Employment
Basis of consideration: EM and Minister's letter of 16 December 2000
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (21420) 9964/00: HC 23-xxvi (1999-2000), paragraph 1 (26 July 2000)
Discussed in Council: 7-9 December 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  13.1  The Commission Communication, Social Policy Agenda,[19] on which this document draws, was debated in Standing Committee C in November 2000. Our sister Committee in the House of Lords has recently published a report on the Communication.[20]

  13.2  At the end of November, the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities at the Department for Education and Employment (the Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell) wrote twice to inform us of developments. In her second letter (dated 30 November), she told us that the Employment and Social Policy Council had agreed a substantially revised text which would be submitted to the Nice European Council. She hoped to be able to provide a full Explanatory Memorandum on the final text after the European Council. We replied, welcoming the agreement, but expressing disappointment that the last-minute negotiation of the text had prevented us from seeing it before the Council.

  13.3  The Minister has now written to us again, enclosing an Explanatory Memorandum on the text adopted at Nice.

The Minister's letter

  13.4  In her letter of 16 December, the Minister addresses our concerns about the scrutiny process. She says:

    "I too am concerned about the impact on the scrutiny process of the last minute negotiation of texts, which has become increasingly prevalent. To take the example of the recent discussions of the Social Policy Agenda at the Employment and Social Policy Council on 27-28 November, ministers were only presented with the final text a matter of hours before agreement was reached. This obviously leaves no time for consultation of any kind...

    "To draw positive conclusions from the recent negotiations of the Social Policy Agenda I felt that the scrutiny hearings conducted in both Houses on the 1st November were extremely helpful. I was able to approach the discussions at the Employment and Social Policy Council with a full appreciation of Parliament's concerns about the general direction of the Social Policy Agenda, and I hope that these were reflected in the agreement which was finally reached."

  13.5  The Minister points out that the text attached to her letter of 30 November was the final version which went to the Nice Council, and that we did, therefore, see it in advance. She apologises if the timing made it difficult for us to consider the text fully, while making it clear that the problem was not of the UK's making.

The final text

  13.6  The final text is differently structured from the Commission Communication. In her Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister tells us that the document aims to establish a framework and six guiding principles for EU action on social policy over the next six years. She helpfully summarises the contents as follows:

    "The framework is established in the preamble to the document and sets out:

    "—  Policy Guidelines laid down by the European Council which focus on achieving the Lisbon goals on employment and the knowledge based economy.

    "—  Principles for Modernising and Improving the European social model in which the productive role of social policy is emphasised alongside the need to generate social cohesion and to ensure the dynamic interaction of economic, employment and social polices.

    "—  The Common Challenges which include achieving full employment; benefiting from technical progress; developing mobility; taking advantage of economic and monetary integration; dealing with population ageing; strengthening social cohesion; making a success of enlargement and affirming the social dimension of globalisation.

    "—  Implementation arrangements.

    "The six guiding principles, which establish the future direction of EU social policy, are:

    "i  More and Better Jobs.

    "ii  Anticipating and capitalising on change in the working environment by creating a new balance between flexibility and security.

    "iii  Fighting poverty and all forms of exclusion and discrimination in order to promote social integration.

    "iv  Modernising social protection.

    "v  Promoting gender equality.

    "vi  Strengthening the social policy aspects of enlargement and the European Union's external relations.

    "These six guiding principles structure a list of specific proposals which are to be taken forward in due course, mostly by the Commission. These cover a variety of policy areas including employment, lifelong learning, health and safety, social exclusion, equal opportunities and enlargement."

The Government's view

  13.7  The Minister had already indicated, in her letter of 30 November, that the revised text incorporated all the UK's major amendments. She comments further in the Explanatory Memorandum:

    "The Social Policy Agenda is firmly anchored in the Lisbon framework and is geared to making the Lisbon goals a reality. The overarching aim of becoming 'the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world' and the Lisbon target of 70% EU employment by 2010 are both prioritised as headline commitments. Moreover the Agenda includes positive references to employability, lifelong learning and the need to meet skills shortages, particularly in ICT,[21] as important future objectives.

    "The specific proposals are varied in nature, with many reflecting the commitment to Lisbon. There is scope to advance a number of the issues at a national level through our employment action plans, and we will seek to ensure that this activity is mirrored throughout the EU. There are a number of proposals to take forward legislation. However, we negotiated hard and successfully to ensure that the Agenda contained no commitment to new labour market regulation. The labour market proposals to which there is reference are either already in force or under negotiation. The Government will continue to uphold the national interest in any ongoing negotiations."

  13.8  The Minister also tells us that the Commission will submit an annual scoreboard of progress made in implementing measures for each Spring European Council.


  13.9  It is good to know that the Minister shares our concerns about the impact on the scrutiny process of the last-minute negotiation of texts. In this instance, while it is true that we were sent a copy of the final text before the Nice Council, we were unable to consider it, not only because of the timing, but also because it was not formally deposited. However, we accept that the problem was not of the Minister's making, and we are grateful for her efforts to keep us informed of developments.

  13.10  We remain concerned, however, about the process, especially as the final text is so different from the Commission Communication which Parliament debated. In this case, it appears to us a distinct improvement, both in structure and in content. On other occasions, the outcome might not be as positive.

  13.11  We clear the document.

19  (21420) 9964/00; see headnote to this paragraph. Back

20  The EU Social Policy Agenda: 20th Report from the Select Committee on the European Union, HL 128 (1999-2000). Back

21  Information and Communications Technologies. Back

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