A high level of employment or even full employment can be seen as important aims of the European Union (European Community), but the real scope of action at European level requires a closer look at the treaties.
Outside circumstances and inter-related Community policies affect the employment levels, not only ‘employment policy’ in a narrow sense.
Economic, employment and social policies are mainly national (despite the single currency), so the European Community (European Union) is left with various coordinating tasks.
A coordinated strategy for employment is a task for the member states and the Community.
The current Article 125 (ex Article 109n) of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) introduces Title VIII Employment by envisioning a coordinated strategy for employment and referring to treaty objectives (in the latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJ 29.12.2006 C 321 E/101):
Article 125 TEC
Member States and the Community shall, in accordance with this title, work towards developing a coordinated strategy for employment and particularly for promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to economic change with a view to achieving the objectives defined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union and in Article 2 of this Treaty.
Objectives TEU and TEC
Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU ) first mentions the objectives “to promote economic and social progress and a high level of employment”.
Article 2 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) gives the Community the task to promote a high level of employment:
Article 2 TEC
The Community shall have as its task, by establishing a common market and an economic and monetary union and by implementing common policies or activities referred to in Articles 3 and 4, to promote throughout the Community a harmonious, balanced and sustainable development of economic activities, a high level of employment and of social protection, equality between men and women, sustainable and non-inflationary growth, a high degree of competitiveness and convergence of economic performance, a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment, the raising of the standard of living and quality of life, and economic and social cohesion and solidarity among Member States.
Original Lisbon Treaty
The Treaty of Lisbon (ToL) is still on its rocky road to possible entry into force, but it is the most up-to-date manifestation of what the member state governments want the treaties to say.
We notice that there was no major explicit amendment to Article 125 TEC according to Article 2, point 111 of the original Lisbon Treaty (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/79):
111) In Article 125, the words ‘and in Article 2 of this Treaty’ shall be deleted.
The Table of equivalences of the original Treaty of Lisbon tells us that Title VIII Employment was to be renumbered Title IX and that Article 125 TEC and TFEU (ToL) was to be renumbered Article 145 TFEU in the consolidated version of the amending treaties (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/213).
Consolidated Lisbon Treaty
Article 66 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) retains the current safeguard measures without substantial change. See the consolidated TFEU, published in the Official Journal of the European Union, OJ 9.5.2008 C 115/73:
Article 145 TFEU
(ex Article 125 TEC)
Member States and the Union shall, in accordance with this Title, work towards developing a coordinated strategy for employment and particularly for promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to economic change with a view to achieving the objectives defined in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union.
Instead of ‘a high level of employment’, Article 3(3) TEU sets the EU ‘aiming at full employment’ in the Treaty of Lisbon (Reform Treaty), but it is better to see the words in context (OJ 9.5.2008 C 115/17):
Article 3(3) TEU
(ex Article 2 TEU)
3. The Union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.
Aiming at a high level of employment or even at full employment sounds very nice, but the level of employment is determined more by other policies and circumstances than by employment policy in a narrow sense.
What can the European Union (European Community) be expected to contribute to employment policy?
One of the nice things about the Lisbon Treaty is that it clarifies the different EU competences (powers).
Title I Categories and areas of Union competence of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union offers us the basic information about the role of the EU (EC). Article 2(3) TFEU evades naming employment under the three clear main categories: exclusive competence, shared competence and competence to support, coordinate or supplement.
The provision does not mention an EU (EC) employment policy. Instead, paragraph 3 speaks of member states’ policies. The member states are supposed to coordinate their economic and employment policies, with the EU’s role to be defined separately:
Article 2(3) TFEU
3. The Member States shall coordinate their economic and employment policies within arrangements as determined by this Treaty, which the Union shall have competence to provide.
Coordination of member states’ policies
Article 5 TFEU is a separate Article, which specifically mentions three related areas, where the member states coordinate their policies within the union (instead of including them among the policy areas for supporting, coordinating or supplementing actions in Article 6 TFEU):
Article 5 TFEU
1. The Member States shall coordinate their economic policies within the Union. To this end, the Council shall adopt measures, in particular broad guidelines for these policies.
Specific provisions shall apply to those Member States whose currency is the euro.
2. The Union shall take measures to ensure coordination of the employment policies of the Member States, in particular by defining guidelines for these policies.
3. The Union may take initiatives to ensure coordination of Member States' social policies.
A high level of employment appears in Article 9 TFEU, a horizontal provision affecting all EU policies and activities, in Title II Provisions having general application:
Article 9 TFEU
In defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall take into account requirements linked to the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health.
Readers interested in the practical side of the European employment strategy can start with the Introduction and the links offered by the European Commission’s DG Employment and Social Affairs: