PART 3: THE SOCIAL POLICY AGENDA|
20. The Social Policy Agenda, published on 28 June
2000, is a Communication from the Commission to the Council, the
European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the
Committee of the Regions. As a Communication it has no legal forceit
is a consultation document, setting out a plan of action for the
coming five years. Any specific proposals for action or for legislation
that emerge out of the consultation will have to be scrutinised
and justified separately. On the other hand, it is still a document
of great potential significance: if the Agenda is agreed by the
European Council at Nice in December one can expect the Commission
quickly to bring forward many of the proposals it describes. The
Report of the European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs
Committee was debated on 23 October and approved two days later.
However, agreement to the plan of action contained in the Agenda
will be given by the Council alone.
21. The Social Policy Agenda takes the language of
the Lisbon Presidency Conclusions a step further. Its professed
aim is to "confront the new challenges to social policy resulting
from the radical transformation of Europe's economy and society",
and in so doing to "ensure the positive and dynamic interaction
of economic, employment and social policy". It is asserted
that "the Lisbon Summit highlighted the essential linkage
between Europe's economic strength and its social model";
the corollary of this is that the "guiding principle"
of the Agenda will be "to strengthen the role of social policy
as a productive factor". On "investing in people"
the Agenda is more explicit than the Lisbon Conclusions, arguing
that high expenditure in fact boosts the economy: "Most social
expenditure on health and education represents an investment in
human resources, with positive economic effects. As a result,
there can be a positive correlation between the scale of such
expenditure and the level of productivity". The inter-relatedness
of economic, employment and social policies is illustrated by
means of a diagram (p. 6), showing the "virtuous circle of
economic and social progress" and their "mutual positive
reinforcement". It could even be argued that the Agenda sees
economic policy as primarily a means to improve social policy:
A key message is that growth
is not an end in itself but essentially a means to achieving a
better standard of living for all. Social policy underpins economic
policy and employment has not only economic but also a social
value (p. 13).
The Agenda states further that "quality of social
policy implies a high level of social protection, good social
services available to all people in Europe, real opportunities
for all, and the guarantee of fundamental and [sic] social
22. The means to meet the challenges of social policy
are listed as follows: the open method of co-ordination; legislation
to guarantee "fundamental social rights" (emanating
where appropriate from the agreement of the social partners);
the "social dialogue"; use of the structural funds;
Community programmes; mainstreaming; policy analysis and research.
It is significant that the "open method of co-ordination"
is mentioned first: it is emphasised that the Agenda "does
not seek to harmonise social policies", but to "work
towards common European objectives and increase co-ordination
of social policies in the context of the internal market and the
single currency". Clearly "harmonisation" is taken
to imply "hard law"; "co-ordination" grows
out of "soft law"policy guidelines and so on.
The Agenda proposes to achieve this co-ordination through "an
improved form of governance", in which "all stakeholders
and actors" should participate. The actors are listed as
follows: the Commission; the Council of Ministers; the European
Parliament; and within Member States national governments; regional
and local authorities; social partners; non-governmental organisations.
No mention is made of national parliaments.
23. The Agenda then lists a wide range of objectives,
and of actions through which these will be achieved. The objectives
fall into five broad classes: full employment and quality of work;
quality of social policy; promoting quality in industrial relations;
preparing for enlargement; promoting international co-operation.
The first two of these are by far the most substantial in terms
of specific actions.
24. On full employment and quality of work the Agenda
proposes to promote entrepreneurship, to develop life-long learning,
with a particular emphasis on new technology, to remove barriers
to the development of the services sector, and to give more priority
to equal opportunities and the adaptability of the workforce.
Under the general heading of "anticipating and managing change
and adapting to the new working environment", the Agenda
calls for "strong action" by the social partners, in
areas such as the development of information and consultation
procedures and the "creation of tools to prevent and mediate
conflicts". In particular, the Commission proposes to launch
a consultation with the social partners under Article 138 TEC
on "modernising and improving employment relations".
This consultation may, according to the procedure summarised above
(paragraph 9), ultimately lead to an agreement enforced by means
of a Council decision. Other new legislative proposals are contained
in this section of the Agenda, on issues such as health and safety,
while old existing proposals on the European Company Statute and
on information and consultation of employees are revived.
25. In the section devoted to "quality of social
policy", on the other hand, the emphasis is on policy co-ordination
and regular reporting rather than on legislation. This of course
reflects the limited Community competence in the area, and the
sensitivities of Member States. Under "promoting social inclusion",
for example, there is a reference to the adoption of an action
programme, along with a call to "agree objectives and targets,
develop indicators, strengthen statistics and develop studies
in all relevant areas to support the open method of co-ordination".
There are no legislative proposals to improve social policy, except
in the areas of gender equality and the "development and
respect of fundamental social rights". Article 13 TEC provides
a specific legal base for action to combat discrimination, and
the Agenda calls for the adoption of the Directive on equal treatment
In addition, the Commission proposes a consultation with the social
partners under Article 138 TEC on data protection, to be launched
26. The Agenda concludes with two Annexes. The first
summarises the specific Commission proposals. It is notable that
the more de-regulatory objectives described in the Agenda itself
(promoting enterprise, removing barriers to expansion of the service
sector, and so on) have no specific corresponding proposalsit
must be assumed that they will be implemented through the existing
employment strategy. The second Annex lists pending proposals
in the social field. No fewer than 24 are listed, mostly Directives.
Some date back as far as the 1980s, and bear witness to the slowness
with which proposals on social policy have been considered by
the Council. However, it is clearly the Commission's hope that
some of the dormant proposals will be revived.
20 See Texts Adopted at the sitting of Wednesday 25
October 2000, pp. 16-21. Back
elsewhere in the document are to "fundamental social rights". Back
issued on 25 November 1999 as a Proposal for a Council Directive
establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment
and occupation (document 13540/99). The Council reached political
agreement on a revised text of this proposal on 17 October 2000.
See the Committee's Report, EU proposals to combat discrimination
(Session 1999-2000, 9th Report). Back