Memorandum by HM Government |
1. The Government supports many of the conclusions
reached by the Social Europe working group. In particular, the
welcomes the recognition by the group
that Union initiatives in the social policy field must be flexible
and adaptable to national circumstances;
believes that the existing competences
of the Union are adequate;
considers that the report's conclusions
on the Open Method of Co-ordination are helpful, as they affirm
the need for flexible arrangements for its application;
agrees on the importance of streamlining
co-ordination between European economic and social policies;
considers that extension of qualified
majority voting in the social policy field is not necessary, and
notes that no consensus within the group was reached on this point;
agrees that consultation with the
social partners should be recognised in the Constitutional Treaty.
2. The Government has actively engaged in
the Social Europe working group of the Convention on the Future
of Europe. It considers that the final report of the working group
reflects UK comments, and can join with the consensus reached
in many areas of the report. Inevitably because the report reflects
a variety of views there are some areas where the Government disagrees
with some of the opinions expressed. However the high degree of
consensus in this difficult area underlines the breadth of support
for strong social values in the Community.
3. The Government has contended that the
new Constitutional Treaty must support equality between women
and men and the objectives of "more and better jobs"
and "social cohesion" agreed at the Lisbon European
Council in 2000. Furthermore, there should be a balance in Community
actions stemming from the Treatyrights and standards must
be employment-friendly, and should help not hinder, unemployed
people in obtaining employment. It has also pressed for the new
Treaty to recognise and respect the diversity of social systems
and industrial relations in the EU, particularly in the light
of enlargement. The UK Government submitted a joint paper with
the Spanish, Polish and Estonian Governments to the working group
affirming all this.
4. In many respects, the working group as
a whole took a similar approach. It agreed that before a socially
just Europe can be created, a firm base of employability and flexible
and adaptable arrangements is needed. There was no desire to promote
a neo-liberal European social model, nor was there a wish to promote
protectionist measures which only place obstacles in the path
of new enterprises or which make employers reluctant to create
new jobs or take on untried employees.
5. The Government shares the consensus in
the working group's final report on the values of the Union: social
justice, solidarity and equality, including equality between men
and women. It believes that Europe can move forward on the basis
of these shared values, to advance social progress both within
and beyond its frontiers. The Government also welcomes many of
the objectives proposed by the working group, in particular the
promotion of full employment, sustainable development, equality
between men and women and social inclusion. The Government is
particularly pleased that the report of the working group recognises
that these objectives can be accomplished using the diverse traditions
of Member States.
6. The Government agrees with the final
report's conclusion that "in general the existing competences
of the Union are adequate". Harmonisation (as opposed to
co-ordination) is not always appropriate and in some cases could
undermine agreed EU objectives. Thus the Government considers
that competences in the social policy field should mostly be defined
as measures which support national action. These are different
from shared competences, where there is the possibility of Member
State and Union action.
7. The Government judges the conclusions
of the working group to mean that shared competences should comprise,
as now, Single Market related issues and a core framework of employment
standards. The Government considers that the latter should continue
to preclude any measure to set common standards for pay. It should
also specifically exclude questions of the right of association,
the right to strike or the right to impose lock-outs across the
EU, which should be determined nationally, in view of the divergence
of national laws, traditions and practice. The report affirms
the Government's view that EC legislation in the social field
must respect the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity.
8. The suggestion in the report's conclusions
that Article 16 could be redrafted to allow for EC legislation
on services of general interest runs contrary to the report's
conclusion that the competences of the Union are sufficient. The
suggested redraft would entail a substantial extension of Union
competence in fields such as social security and education. The
Government does not consider that changes are needed to Article
16 since there is already an acceptable Treaty base for Community
action on services of general economic interest in Article 86.3.
9. The Government agrees with the report's
conclusion that there may be a case for enhancing Community action
in certain areas of public health protection, such as bioterrorism
or communicable disease control. There may also be benefits of
rationalising existing Community powers to deliver health objectives
more effectively, such as on tobacco control. However the Government
believes that a further discussion of specifics is necessary before
accepting the case for an extension of Community competence in
the health field, and the Government strongly supports the report's
view that the exclusive competence for Member States' health systems
in Article 152.5 should be retained. The High Level Process of
Reflection on Patient Mobility and Healthcare Developments in
Europe provides a valuable forum for detailed consideration of
10. The Government considers that the report's
conclusions on the Open Method of Co-ordination are helpful. The
Open Method is a flexible tool which is used in different ways
in different circumstances, depending on what is to be achieved.
It is helpful that the report does not recommend areas where the
Open Method should be applied, nor does it suggest that the Open
Method should be rigidly defined in the Treaty.
11. The Government agrees on the importance
of streamlining co-ordination between European economic and social
policies. It considers that the most appropriate means of achieving
this is by ensuring that the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines
include social and employment objectives. It is the Government's
opinion that Treaty changes are not required to achieve greater
consistency between economic and social policies, as this would
be too rigid and prescriptive.
12. The final report of the working group
notes that the group could not agree whether to extend qualified
majority voting (QMV) in the social policy field. The Government
does not believe that any extension of QMV in this area is necessary.
It is not convinced that more QMV will create more and better
jobs, or help further alleviate social exclusion. The Government
also considers that unanimity has not been a bar to the adoption
of necessary legislation in the social field. Unanimity allows
proportionate legislation to be adopted which respects the diversity
of national traditions in EU Member States.
13. New decision-making arrangements in
the social field under the Nice Treaty only came into effect on
1 February 2003. The new rules allow the Council to decide unanimously
to move to qualified majority voting in some areas of social policy.
The Government considers that it would be premature to consider
changing these arrangements at this stage. Given that they have
not yet been properly tested, the Government believes that the
arrangements should be preserved in the new Treaty.
14. The final report of the working group
states that a "superqualified majority vote" of 75 per
cent could be a possible means of extending qualified majority
voting in the social policy field. The Government does not believe
that this would be a satisfactory compromise, as this would only
be an increase of 3.74 per cent on the qualified majority vote
threshold of 71.26 per cent in the Nice Treaty.
15. The Government welcomes the conclusion
in the final report of the working group that consultation with
the social partners should be recognised in the Constitutional
Treaty, as it is in the present EC Treaty. The social partners
play an important role in European policy making and the Government
supports the conclusion that the existing procedures in Article
139 should be maintained. Civil society organisations also make
valuable contributions to social policy making, and the Government
considers that it is important that they are consulted. However
the Government does not believe that a prescribed role for these
organisations should be set out in the Treaty.
16. The final report of the working group
will be used to draft Treaty Articles to be discussed by the Convention's
Praesidium. The Government will work closely with other Convention
members to ensure that the resulting Treaty supports Lisbon objectives.