Monday, 1 December 2008

European Union: Social policy objectives

Social policy has been a contested area of European Community (European Union) policy at times. We look at social objectives among the general EU and EC aims before we present the objectives in the Title on social policy.



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European Union objectives

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 and to achieve balanced and sustainable development, in particular through the creation of an area without internal frontiers, through the strengthening of economic and social cohesion and through the establishment of economic and monetary union, ultimately including a single currency in accordance with the provisions of the treaty (in the latest consolidated version of the treaties OJ 29.12.2006 C 321 E).
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European Community objectives

The European Community promotes a high level of employment and of social protection as well as equality between men and women.

According to Article 2 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) establishing a common market and an economic and monetary union as well as other Community policies and activities are means to those ends:

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.

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Pursuant to Article 3(1)(j) the European Community includes a policy in the social sphere comprising a European Social Fund. According to the second paragraph, the Community aims to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women.

In the social policy area, too, the European Community acts within the limits of its conferred (attributed) powers and in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.


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Social policy objectives
Current TEC

The headline of this post refers to the ‘European Union’, which can be defended if you look at the EU as a Greek Temple, with three pillars. More exactly, the subject matter belongs to the Community pillar (first pillar), but few readers seem to be that exact in their web searches. The term ‘European Community’ seems to have fallen into disuse, save for official documents and a few brave lawyers. I try to use the EU and the EC terms in a pragmatic manner, depending on the context.
In the current Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), Title VIII on employment is followed by Title IX Common commercial policy and Title X Customs cooperation, before the start of the motley Title XI Social policy, education, vocational training and youth.




The existing Article 136 TEC (ex Article 117), in the latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJ 29.12.2006 C 321 E/103, mentions the social policy objectives of the European Community:
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TITLE XI
SOCIAL POLICY, EDUCATION, VOCATIONAL TRAINING AND YOUTH

CHAPTER 1
SOCIAL PROVISIONS

Article 136 TEC

The Community and the Member States, having in mind fundamental social rights such as those set out in the European Social Charter signed at Turin on 18 October 1961 and in the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, shall have as their objectives the promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions, so as to make possible their harmonisation while the improvement is being maintained, proper social protection, dialogue between management and labour, the development of human resources with a view to lasting high employment and the combating of exclusion.

To this end the Community and the Member States shall implement measures which take account of the diverse forms of national practices, in particular in the field of contractual relations, and the need to maintain the competitiveness of the Community economy.

They believe that such a development will ensue not only from the functioning of the common market, which will favour the harmonisation of social systems, but also from the procedures provided for in this Treaty and from the approximation of provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action.

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Original Lisbon Treaty (ToL)


The Treaty of Lisbon (ToL) is still on its rocky road to possible entry into force. Agreed and signed between 27 member state governments, it has by now been approved by the national parliaments in 25 member states ahead of the original target date for entry into force (1 January 2009). Among the parliamentary ratifiers, only the holder of the next Council Presidency, the Czech Republic, looks certain to miss the agreed target date.

In addition, Ireland is pondering its European future following the negative outcome of the 12 June 2008 referendum. (You can find updated references to materials of general European interest on the debate in the posts ‘Ireland and Lisbon Treaty’ and ‘UCD Dublin European Institute: Irleand’s Future in Europe’.)

Anyway, in some instances the Lisbon Treaty is the most up-to-date manifestation of what the member state governments want the treaties to say.

On the other hand, the treaty reform process, at least since the Treaty of Nice, has been focused on so called institutional innovations. With a few notable exceptions, most areas of Community policy have only been updated and adjusted technically to the different reform treaty versions: the draft Constitution, the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty.

After moving Title IX Common commercial policy and Title X Customs cooperation, employment, social policy and the European Social Fund (ESF) would follow each other in a more logical order when the Lisbon Treaty is in force.

In addition, Title XI Social policy, education, vocational training and youth is divided into separate Titles, which makes the treaty easier to read.


Article 2, point 112 concerns the common commercial policy and point 113 customs cooperation.

SOCIAL POLICY

114) The heading of Title XI ‘SOCIAL POLICY, EDUCATION, VOCATIONAL TRAINING AND YOUTH’ shall be replaced by the heading ‘SOCIAL POLICY’, renumbered IX; the heading ‘Chapter 1 — Social provisions’ shall be deleted (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/80).

Point 115 already inserted a new Article 136a, so there were no express or specific amendments to Article 136. Consequently, the main change was the new Social policy heading. Article 136 TEC underwent only horizontal amendments. The word ‘Community’ is replaced by ‘Union’, ‘common market’ is replaced by ‘internal market’ and ‘this Treaty’ is replaced by ‘the Treaties’, as elsewhere in the Treaty of Lisbon.

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Renumbering

The Table of equivalences of the original Treaty of Lisbon tells us that the social policy title was to be renumbered Title X and that Article 136 TEC and TFEU (ToL) was to be renumbered Article 151 TFEU in the consolidated version of the amending treaties (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/216).


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Consolidated Lisbon Treaty



Article 151 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) takes over the contents of the existing Article 136 TEC with the minimal change in terminology and the renumbering noted above.

As a consequence, the consolidated TFEU, published in the Official Journal of the European Union, OJ 9.5.2008 C 115/114, looks like this:
TITLE X
SOCIAL POLICY

Article 151 TFEU
(ex Article 136 TEC)

The Union and the Member States, having in mind fundamental social rights such as those set out in the European Social Charter signed at Turin on 18 October 1961 and in the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, shall have as their objectives the promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions, so as to make possible their harmonization while the improvement is being maintained, proper social protection, dialogue between management and labour, the development of human resources with a view to lasting high employment and the combating of exclusion.

To this end the Union and the Member States shall implement measures which take account of the diverse forms of national practices, in particular in the field of contractual relations, and the need to maintain the competitiveness of the Union economy.
They believe that such a development will ensue not only from the functioning of the internal market, which will favour the harmonisation of social systems, but also from the procedures provided for in the Treaties and from the approximation of provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action.


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Practical information about social policy issues

European Parliament Fact Sheet 4.8.1. Social and employment policy presents the historical development and the main features of EC social policy:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/facts/4_8_1_en.htm

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The Commissions web page The Social Policy Agenda (2006–2010) gives a description of the social policy objectives and priority areas (last update 25.04.2005):
http://europa.eu/scadplus/leg/en/cha/c10127.htm

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An updated view of the social agenda is presented by the joint opinion by the Social Protection Committee (SPC) and the Employment Committee (EMCO) on the Renewed Social Agenda, as adopted by the two committees on 14 and 27 November 2008, respectively:

http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/08/st16/st16495.en08.pdf

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The relevant Council formation is Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs, known by the acronym EPSCO. Until the next meeting, on 15 and 16 December, the latest Conclusions are from the meeting held on 2 October 2008 (document 13405/08):

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/lsa/103181.pdf


Ralf Grahn