Wednesday, 10 December 2008

European Union: Social Protection Committee

The member states of the European Community (European Union) have agreed to coordinate their social policies and on the possibility to set minimum standards. The Commission supports these efforts.

The Social Protection Committee, in its current form established in 2004, functions in an advisory capacity as a joint forum for the member states’ governments and the Commission.

In the context of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, social cohesion has its own role as an EC (EU) aim. Outside the world of legal acts, the developing open method of coordination (OMC) finds some of its main applications in the fields of social protection and social inclusion. But first we look at what the existing treaty and the Lisbon Treaty have to say about the Social Protection Committee.


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Article 144 TEC

Article 144 (ex Article 121) of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) concerns the establishment of the advisory Social Protection Committee.

The tasks of the Committee are coordinating in nature, but in the Treaty of Nice they were drafted with the open method of coordination (OMC) in mind.

The customary reference to Article 207 TEC means that the Social Protection Committee – an important sectoral committee – does not jeopardise the status of the Committee of the Permanent Representatives of the Member States (Coreper) as the last stop before matters are laid on the table for decisions by the Ministers in the Council.

The contacts with management and labour in the English treaty version are, as usual, given a more specific meaning in other language versions, which refer to the social partners (or similar).

Whereas the Commission acts as the work-horse, the essentially intergovernmental nature of the Social Protection Committee (and the social policy area) is brought to light by the following facts: The Committee is established by the Council. The tasks are mainly related to policies of the member states. Each member state nominates two members (54 in all), while the Commission is represented by two members.

The current Article 144 TEC, as published in the latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJ 29.12.2006 C 321 E/111:

Article 144 TEC

The Council, after consulting the European Parliament, shall establish a Social Protection Committee with advisory status to promote cooperation on social protection policies between Member States and with the Commission. The tasks of the Committee shall be:

— to monitor the social situation and the development of social protection policies in the Member States and the Community,

— to promote exchanges of information, experience and good practice between Member States and with the Commission,

— without prejudice to Article 207, to prepare reports, formulate opinions or undertake other work within its fields of competence, at the request of either the Council or the Commission or on its own initiative.

In fulfilling its mandate, the Committee shall establish appropriate contacts with management and labour.

Each Member State and the Commission shall appoint two members of the Committee.

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Original Lisbon Treaty (ToL)

Article 2, point 120 of the original Treaty of Lisbon (ToL) amends the preceding Article 143 TEC and point 121 concerns the European Social Fund, so there were no specific amendments to Article 144 TEC (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/82).

The ‘Community’ is replaced by ‘Union’ according to the horizontal amendment in Article 2, point 2(a) ToL and in the first paragraph the words ‘acting by a simple majority’ are inserted after the Council in accordance with point 4.

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Renumbering ToL

The Table of equivalences of the original Treaty of Lisbon tells us that the social policy title was to be renumbered Title X. Article 144 TEC first became Article 144 TFEU (ToL), then to be renumbered Article 160 TFEU in the consolidated versions of the amending treaties (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/216).


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Consolidated Lisbon Treaty

After these modest adjustments Article 160 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), appears as follows in the consolidated TFEU, published in the Official Journal of the European Union, OJ 9.5.2008 C 115/118–119:

(TITLE X
SOCIAL POLICY)

Article 160 TFEU
(ex Article 144 TEC)

The Council, acting by a simple majority after consulting the European Parliament, shall establish a Social Protection Committee with advisory status to promote cooperation on social protection policies between Member States and with the Commission. The tasks of the Committee shall be:

— to monitor the social situation and the development of social protection policies in the Member States and the Union,

— to promote exchanges of information, experience and good practice between Member States and with the Commission,

— without prejudice to Article 240, to prepare reports, formulate opinions or undertake other work within its fields of competence, at the request of either the Council or the Commission or on its own initiative.

In fulfilling its mandate, the Committee shall establish appropriate contacts with management and labour.

Each Member State and the Commission shall appoint two members of the Committee.


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The social situation in the European Union 2007

Just as a reminder I recall the general social policy report mentioned in the previous blog post and in the context of the preceding treaty Article.

The Commission’s (Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities; Eurostat) latest annual social policy report is called The Social Situation in the European Union 2007 – Social Cohesion through Equal Opportunities (published 2008; 199 pages):

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/spsi/docs/social_situation/ssr2007_en.pdf

For a quick take on the findings, you can read the press release issued when the report was published, 22 May 2008 (MEMO/08/326):

http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/08/326

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Social Protection Committee: Secondary legislation

If we return to the Social Protection Committee, the following step from a legal point of view is to look at the Council Decision whereby it was established as it exists now.

The current Social Protection Committee was established by Council Decision 2004/689/EC of 4 October 2004 establishing a Social Protection Committee and repealing Decision 2000/436/EC ( published OJ 13.10.2004 L 314/8). Even for those less interested in the legal technicalities, the Recitals (Whereas) laying out the existing rules and the reasons for the new ones are often the beast means to get a quick overview, especially if textbooks and other publications have not been updated at the time.

Based on Article 144 TEC, the Council Decision can be found here:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2004:314:0008:0010:EN:PDF



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Further reading

The Commission’s Scadplus web pages offer main points of Community legislation in a readable format. The page Social Protection Committee can be found here:

http://europa.eu/scadplus/leg/en/cha/c10119.htm

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Activities: Lisbon Strategy and social cohesion


Even a lawyer has to admit the existence of other breeds of people, who might be interested in various real life occurrences like the activities of a high-level committee. As a concession to such interests, here are a few references to EU social policy (within the framework of EU law), including the context (Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs) and the open method of coordination (OMC).

The Commission’s Directorate-General Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities presents information about the activities, with links to additional information. Under the banner of the Lisbon Strategy and its aim to achieve social cohesion, the page The Social Protection Committee lays stress on the open method of coordination (OMC). The links in this regard may be of interest to some readers:

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/spsi/social_protection_committee_en.htm

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Open method of coordination (OMC)

In the context of social cohesion the web page The process: the Open Method of Coordination presents main features of the OMC, including the Commission’s recent proposal to reinforce the open method of coordination for social protection and social inclusion COM/2008/0418 final. There are also links to additional pages on the OMC, i.a. Common objectives, Common indicators, National Strategic Reports:

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/spsi/the_process_en.htm

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Joint reports

Joint reports by the Commission and the Council are further explained on the web page Joint reports:

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/spsi/joint_reports_en.htm


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Joint report 2008

The latest version, the Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion 2008 (Council document 7274/08) is available here.

http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/08/st07/st07274.en08.pdf

The joint report was based on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Proposal for the Joint Report on social protection and social inclusion 2008, COM/2008/0042 final, with additional information in document {SEC(2008) 91}, available here:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2008:0042:FIN:EN:PDF

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The next spring European Council, this time under the Czech Council Presidency, is looming on the horizon. This means that preparatory documents will start to appear on various aspects of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs ahead of the Council formations which finalise the groundwork for the heads of state or government in March 2009.


Ralf Grahn