Social and Employment Policy

The purpose of the European social and employment policy is to obtain a decent quality of life and standard of living for all EU citizens by increasing the employment rate and ensuring that the citizens enjoy a high level of social protection. The social and employment policy also contributes to achieving the goal of creating growth and welfare in the EU.

During the Danish Presidency of the Council of the EU, a number of dossiers on the social and employment area will dominate the work of the Council. Below you can read more about these matters and the EU’s social and employment policy.

Clarification of the relationship between freedom of movement and workers’ rights

The aim of this motion is to clarify the relationship between, on the one hand, the economic rights of the EU, especially the right to free movement and, on the other hand, the fundamental rights, especially of the trade unions in relation to foreign companies.

The proposal establishes that the rights mentioned above are of equal importance, and that none of these rights may be favoured over the other in case of a dispute between a company and a trade union in another country. This is a clarification of the present EU rules as set out in the Treaty of Lisbon, where the rights of the unions are underlined.

The Danish EU Presidency will give this proposal a high priority, in order to confirm these basic principles of EU.

Electromagnetic fields

The EU Commission has put forward a proposal to change the existing directive on electromagnetic fields.

The directive is concerned with the very large amounts of electromagnetic fields that can be found in certain work-places, typically where much power is consumed. The need to amend the existing directive is due to implications on the use of certain MRI scanners in the health sactor.

The proposed amendments to the directive concerns inter alia a new set of limit values for work related exposure to electromagnetic fields.

The EU 2020 strategy and the European Semester

It is an important challenge for all Member States to ensure employment and social inclusion, especially during the current financial crisis. The steps that Member States take in these areas are part of their national competence, even though the Member States formulate common goals and exchange experience and good practices regarding national solutions within the so-called Open Method of Coordination (OMC).

The European Semester is the basis for future control and supervision of the reform efforts within financial and employment policy.

During the Danish Presidency, the European Semester will have been effective for a year. In the area of social and employment policy, the Presidency wishes to ensure that the work within the European Semester runs as efficiently as possible, enabling the Member States to reach the common goals regarding increased employment and social inclusion.

Proposal for a directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment

In 2008, the European Commission proposed a draft directive concerning the implementation of the principle of equal treatment regardless of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, which is to be applied in areas outside the labour market.

The purpose of the draft directive is to implement, within the EU, the right to equal treatment and a prohibition on differential treatment on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. As such, both direct and indirect differential treatment violates the directive.

The proposal supplements the existing directives on differential treatment as well as anti-discrimination directives within the employment area. The proposal must be passed unanimously in the Council with the consent of the European Parliament.

Strengthened enforcement of the posted workers directive

The EU directive for posted workers establishes that companies that post employees to another member state must comply with local laws concerning minimum wage, working environment etc. The proposal to strengthen the posted workers directive is to make it easier to enforce these local rules.

The proposal is among other intended to improve the collaboration between authorities in the different states. The proposal should also increase the chances that foreign companies get a sanction if they fail to apply the directive, also after they return to their home country. This will increase the protection of posted workers and prevent so-called “social dumping” from taking place.

The Danish EU Presidency will give this proposal a high priority, in order to increase worker protection and the freedom of the movement. 

The EU programme for Social Development and Innovation

The Commission has presented a proposal to create an EU programme for Social Development and Innovation. The programme is part of the multi-annual financial framework, which is the EU budget for 2014-2020. The programme is a combination of three existing instruments:

  • The PROGRESS programme, which is to ensure a common effort and efficient policy coordination between Member States within the areas of employment and social policy. In the proposal, this programme is adjusted to the 2020 strategy, with a heavier emphasis on evidence-based political decision-making.
  • EURES (EURopean Employment Services), which aims to increase transparency in the labour market by making vacancies available in the EURES job mobility portal. EURES furthermore supports services providing information, counselling and guidance at national and transnational levels.
  • The European microfinance facility, which helps unemployed individuals back into work through micro-credit loans, enabling them to set up their own business.

EU objectives for the social and employment policy
The objectives of the  social and employment policy of the EU are to:

  • promote labour mobility
  • increase employment
  • fight unemployment and social exclusion
  • modernise and coordinate the social security systems
  • improve the working environment and legal rights for workers
  • ensure  sustainable and adequate pensions as well as healthcare and care for the elderly
  • promote equal pay for men and women

The development of the social and employment policy within the EU
From the very beginning, the free movement for workers has  been one of the basic rights within the European Community and this was the focal point of the first social and employment policy of the EU.

From the outset, central elements of the social and employment policy were to eliminate discrimination and coordinate the social security systems of Member States.

For example: which country was to pay a worker’s pension if he or she had been employed in another Member State? And which country’s social security system was to take responsibility for the migrant worker? The EU legislation of today addresses these questions.

Since the 1970s, the EU has been engaged in improving the protection of workers in Europe. Today, there are European minimum requirements on the working environment, working hours, and maternity/paternity leave.

Working towards a common goal
Employment policy in respect of e.g. rules regarding the activation of unemployed people is exclusively a national competence. However, in the early 1990s structural issues in the labour markets resulted in an increasing need among Member States to coordinate their efforts in the area of employment.

The Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 was a turning point for the social and employment policy.  In this new Treaty an entire chapter was dedicated to employment policy and the Heads of State or  Government launched the European employment strategy the aim of which was to reduce unemployment throughout the European countries.

In this context, rather than legislation, the means was closer cooperation where the Member States adopt common goals and exchange experience and best practices on national solutions within the framework of the so-called Open Method of Coordination.

In 2000, the Heads of State or Government placed the social protection systems on the agenda and agreed that social policy should be on an equal footing with employment policy and financial policy. The work in this area was to take place within the Open Method of Coordination.

The EU’s role in the area of social security and employment
The Council normally makes decisions in co-decision with the European Parliament. This procedure applies for instance when the Council passes legislation about the working environment, conditions at work, and the free movement of workers.

Furthermore, the social partners may conclude agreements at European level and ask the Council to pass them as legally binding EU legislation. This takes place without participation from the European Parliament and underlines the important role that the social partners play within the field of labour market policy.

However, Member States remain responsible for their own social and employment policy and EU policies are limited to cooperation within the Open Method of Coordination and to passing legislation regarding minimum rights for workers. This means that Member States are allowed to pass legislation which has a higher level of protection than that of the European Union.