FOURTEENTH REPORT - THE FUTURE OF EUROPE:
Further consideration needs to be given to whether
"equality" should be included as a value of the Union.
1. The Government agrees. The Government is supportive
of the inclusion of "equality" in the most recent draft
of Treaty Article I-2 on the Union's values (document CONV 724/03
of 26 May 2003). It will work to ensure that "equality"
remains listed in this Treaty Article.
If "full employment" is included as
an objective, it will be important to establish a clear understanding
of what it means.
2. The Government considers that the purpose
of the proposed objective of "full employment" should
be chiefly aspirational (indeed, Article 3.2 of Part I of the
draft Treaty provides that the Union is to "aim" at
full employment). It should signal the importance that the Union
attaches to tackling unemployment and inactivity. The Government
shares the consensus of the Social Europe working group that an
objective of "a high level of employment" is not sufficiently
3. However, European Union competence in the
field of employment is limited, with activity at the European
level focusing on the co-ordination of national employment policies
through the European Employment Strategy. The Committee acknowledges
that it would be difficult to establish a common definition of
"full employment" in Europe, given the variety of traditions
in Member States. The Government agrees with this analysis, and
therefore does not consider that an objective of "full employment"
should be defined in the Treaty. The Government does not believe
that a single, "one size-fits all" definition of full
employment is either necessary or desirable, given that there
is no single, "one-size fits all" European employment
policy. Rather, the EU objective of full employment will be pursued
through national policies guided by national circumstances and
There is little pressure in the United Kingdom
for any general extension of the competence of the EU in the social
policy area, but there is a case for extending it to public health,
provided that such an extension is confined to issues that are
genuinely cross-border and does not impinge on Member States'
control over how their health services are run.
4. The Government agrees with the Committee's
analysis that "there is little pressure in the United Kingdom
for any general extension of the competence of the EU in the social
policy area". The Government believes that an appropriate
balance has now been reached in the social field, with most competences
supporting national action, and some selected competences (e.g.,
Single Market related issues) being shared between the Union and
its Member States.
5. The Committee considers that there is a case
for extending Community competence in the field of public health,
provided that such an extension is strictly confined to cross-border
issues and does not affect Member States' abilities to run their
own health systems. The Government has already stated in its written
Memorandum to the Committee of February 2003 that it strongly
supports the view given in the report of the Social Europe working
group that the existing recognition in Article 152.5 of the EC
Treaty that Community action in the field of public health must
fully respect the responsibilities of the Member States for the
organisation and delivery of health services and medical care
should be retained, and so agrees with the Committee on this latter
point. More generally in the field of public health, the Government
has not reached a final position on whether Community competence
should be extended. The Government will consider the Committee's
conclusions alongside recommendations from other fora, including
the High Level Process of Reflection on Patient Mobility and Healthcare
Developments in Europe, in deciding how to progress on this issue.
There is a need to clarify (and simplify) the
legal base of EU social policy, and in particular the extent to
which different aspects of social policy are areas of shared competence.
6. The Government agrees. In order to reduce
the potential for confusion, the Government considers that Part
I of the Treaty should only specify areas of exclusive competence
and supporting action, with shared competence as a residual category.
For those policy areas where there is a mixture of shared and
supporting competences (such as social policy), the detail should
be set out in Part II of the Treaty. The Government has already
submitted suggested draft Treaty amendments to the Convention's
Secretariat to this effect. The Government will work to ensure
that the new Treaty is clear and consistent in specifying competences,
particularly in the social and employment fields.
7. The Government notes that social policy has
a special character, given that specific combinations of instruments
and procedures are appropriate in different cases. The Government
considers that this particular nature of social policy must be
reflected in the eventual Treaty provisions dealing with social
policy, in line with, for instance, existing Article 137 of the
8. The Committee raises the particular issue
of competences in the field of public health. Article 152 of the
EC Treaty provides for a mix of shared competence and supporting
action on public health issues, whereas the first draft of Part
I of the Treaty lists public health as a shared competence. In
its comments to the Convention Secretariat on this draft, the
Government has highlighted this inconsistency. The Government
commented that public health should be listed in Part I of the
Treaty as an area of supporting action, except for those areas
- to be listed in Part II - where harmonisation is currently permitted
(namely, quality standards for organs, substances of human origin,
blood and blood derivatives, and measures in the veterinary and
It is doubtful whether in a Union of 25 unanimity
will offer a practicable means of agreeing measures in the social
9. The Government considers that qualified majority
voting and co-decision should be the general voting arrangement
for Union decision-making in what is now the first pillar, except
in areas of vital national interest, where unanimity should apply.
The Government believes that this exception should operate in
remaining areas of the social and employment fields where unanimity
currently applies, in order to respect the diversity of national
traditions in Member States.
10. The Government disagrees with the analysis that
unanimity will block decision-making in a Union of 25. The power
of veto for selected areas of social and employment policy is
used sparingly and responsibly by existing Member States, and
the Government sees no reason why this situation should not continue
in an enlarged Union. Furthermore, new arrangements are envisaged
in the post-enlargement Council to facilitate compromise solutions,
particularly in areas where unanimity applies. These arrangements
are likely to include enabling increased collaboration between
like-minded Member States. Also, the Government believes that
the amendments introduced by the Nice Treaty in this area, including
provisions to allow the Council to move by unanimous decision
to qualified majority voting in certain areas of social and employment
policy, should be fully tested before considering extending qualified
11. Finally, paragraph 19 of the Committee's Report
discusses whether unanimity has been a bar to the adoption of
legislation in the social policy field. In his evidence to the
Committee, Mr Hain cited Regulation 1408/71, which relates to
social security, as one example of legislation adopted under unanimity.
The Report is critical of this example, as it notes that the original
Regulation was adopted over 30 years ago when there were six Member
States in the European Community. However the Regulation has been
annually updated since 1971 and nowadays is updated by unanimity
in a Union of 15. The Commission's recent proposal to extend the
legislation to third country nationals was scrutinised and adopted
within four months of its being presented on a legal base acceptable
to all Member States. The Government therefore does not believe
that unanimity delays or impedes decision-making in the social
and employment fields.
National parliaments should have an opportunity
to scrutinise action taken under the Open Method of Co-ordination
at an early stage in the process.
12. The Government welcomes the Committee's interest
in the Open Method of Co-ordination. It agrees on the importance
of national parliaments being fully involved in scrutinising developments
under the Open Method of Co-ordination. The Government takes note
of the Committee's views on scrutiny by national parliaments and
will bear these in mind in further discussions on the Open Method
of Co-ordination in the Convention and the Intergovernmental Conference.
Once the most appropriate means of dealing with the Open Method
of Co-ordination into the Treaty has been agreed, the Government
will return to the Committee's specific suggestion that a procedure
should be developed to enable full parliamentary scrutiny of processes
under the Open Method of Co-ordination. The specific nature of
any procedure developed for the UK Parliament will depend on the
nature of any Treaty reference that is finally agreed.
There would be advantage in giving the Open Method
of Co-ordination a Treaty base, provided that it does not reduce
the present flexibility of its application.
13. The Government would not be opposed to giving
the Open Method of Co-ordination a Treaty base, as long as doing
so allows flexibility of its application.
If the social partners and civil society are to
be given a greater role in the decision-making of the Union, a
number of important issues need to be clarified.
14. The Committee highlights that the report of the
Social Europe working group suggests that the role of the social
partners should be "facilitated and enhanced", but that
the report does not specify the means for doing so. The Committee
also suggests that issues such as the definition, role and representation
of civil society should be clarified.
15. The Government recognises the key role played
by the social partners in the social and employment policy fields.
However the Government does not consider that further procedures
or powers are needed to facilitate or enhance the social dialogue.
16. The Government acknowledges the important involvement
of civil society organisations in the social policy arena and
is pleased that that this has already been recognised in the draft
Treaty. The Government considers that Article 34 of Part I of
the draft Treaty (on "the principle of participatory democracy")
provides an appropriate means of recognising the dialogue between
the Union's institutions and civil society. The Government does
not believe that further definition of civil society in the Treaty
(such as setting out prescribed roles) is necessary.
Any amendment of Article 16 EC relating to services
of general interest would be fraught with difficulty.
17. The Government agrees. It also agrees with the
Committee's suggestion that a better approach than revising Article
16 of the EC Treaty would be to support the Commission's strategy
of using Communications which clarify the position in general
terms and propose Community action only where there is consensus
on the need for further clarification of the policy for services
of general interest.
141 Government Response dated 11 June 2003. Back