Labour and Social Affairs in 2015 – the European Commission’s view
“To re-create growth and bring people back to work – that will be my ultimate goal.” That is the statement given by the new Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, on his website. Reason enough to examine the Commission’s work programme for 2015, especially its implications for employment and social policy.
The first work programme of the Juncker Commission was eagerly awaited, since the Commission has promised to “tackle things differently” compared with the previous Commission. This is already apparent from the new working methods of the College of Commissioners. From now on, a new wind will be blowing through the corridors of the Berlaymont building. In future, the Commissioners will work in thematic teams under the leadership of a Vice-President. It comes as no surprise that the 2015 work programme, designed to implement the policy guidelines of Commission President Juncker, is different from the programmes of previous years.
Labour market integration – Skills – Mobility
Ten priorities on which the Commission intends to focus this year are explained and described in concrete terms in an Annex I with the announcement of 23 new initiatives. In the first axis, “New impetus for jobs, growth and investment”, as well as the implementation of the Investment Initiative presented at the end of November, the Commission has announced a package of measures to promote integration and employability in the labour market. With this, the Member States should be supported in their efforts to bring people (especially young people and the long-term unemployed) into the workplace and develop a skilled workforce. Other measures are cited in connection with this endeavour, including those designed to implement the employment initiative (cf. Europeinfos no. 174).
Furthermore, the Commission has announced for 2015 the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The Churches and their welfare service organisations have from the outset been monitoring the ten-year Growth and Jobs Strategy of the European Union, especially with regard to the poverty target.
The announced package of measures for labour mobility and combating abuse through better coordination of social security systems, announced under the heading “A deeper and fairer Internal Market with a strengthened industrial base”, is also of interest. The strengthening of EURES, the European network for promoting cross-border mobility in the labour market, remains on the EU agenda. This is to be welcomed.
Problem child: the Maternity Protection Directive
It was time to make a clean sweep to make room for politicians to invest time and energy in those proposals which would have the greatest impact on employment and growth, and would also have good prospects of early adoption. That was the Commission’s basis for drawing up in Annex II the list of proposals to be withdrawn or changed. The list contains 80 of the 450 legislative proposals still pending as leftovers from the previous Commission.
One prominent example is the proposal to “improve the safety and health of pregnant workers, women who have recently given birth, and breastfeeding mothers”, better known as the Maternity Protection Directive, from 2008 onwards. Negotiations on this proposal stalled in recent years as the different views were too divergent, especially with regard to the minimum duration of maternity leave. While the Commission’s proposal envisaged extending this from 14 to 18 weeks, while guaranteeing that the benefit paid out would be at least at the level of sick pay, the European Parliament in its Opinion called for 20 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave.
In addition, the Parliament considered that the spouse or partner of a woman who has given birth should be entitled to two weeks fully paid leave (paternity leave). In the Council, the discussions have been “put on ice” since 2012, as the Parliament’s demands for 20 weeks and full pay were considered unacceptable, especially given the financial and economic crisis and the constraints of fiscal consolidation. Recently, the Italian Presidency put this proposal on the agenda of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the Council. The Commission has now declared that the originally proposed directive will be replaced by an initiative if agreement has still not been reached within six months.
“Fitness and performance check” for existing legal acts
In Annex III of the work programme the Commission clarifies its commitment to better legal protection. Annex III lists the REFIT measures for this year. Based on the Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programmes (REFIT for short), the intention is to guarantee the efficiency and performance of European legislation. In the field of “employment, social, skills and labour mobility”, for example, the directives on health and safety at work (89/391/EEC), part-time and fixed-term contracts (97/81/EC) as well as the information requirements for the employer (91/533/EEC) are either being evaluated this year or the results of their quality reviews will be presented.
For the sake of completeness, Annex IV of the work programme should also be mentioned; this gives an overview of the legal acts which will become applicable in 2015.
A new start?
We will find out during the coming months whether or not the Commission’s 2015 work programme is genuinely a new start. The crucial element here will be the content of the announced measures.
Translated from the original text in German