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One year in office

09/02/2011

I’ve clocked up one year as the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. It is only the beginning of a five-year mandate but an important time to take stock.

EUROPE 2020 AND ECONOMIC GOVERNANCE

“Tackling the economic and social consequences of the current crisis must be Europe’s top priority. We need to find a balanced way out of the current turmoil and help get people back into work. This cannot become the lost decade".

László Andor, speaking to the European Parliament January 14th 2010

The new College team took office in the midst of the worst economic and financial crisis in the past 50 years so immediate action focused on addressing the turmoil. We had to redesign the long-term growth pattern of the EU economy, while addressing the challenges of short-term financial instability, and ensuring at the same time consistency between the two.

At the start of March, we presented our new strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth: Europe 2020 Choose translations of the previous link . This has framed our work. For my part, preparing the social dimension of the new strategy and steering the debate, trying to build consensus around meaningful employment, poverty and social inclusion targets and initiatives at European level has made it a hugely challenging but fascinating year.

Within the new Europe 2020 roadmap, we have set five headline targets. On my portfolio, we have worked hard to reach an agreement on concrete employment and poverty targets. At the June summit, European leaders agreed on new EU targets to reduce poverty, create jobs and improve education. It's the first time ever that Member States have set a numerical target to combat poverty.

The targets:

  • Lifting at least 20 million people out of poverty
  • Raising the average EU employment rate to 75%
  • Reducing school drop-out rates below 10%
  • Increasing participation in tertiary education above 40%
  • Investing 3% of the EU's GDP (public and private combined) to be in R&D/innovation
  • Ensuring climate Change/energy greenhouse gases are 20% lower than 1990; that 20% of energy stems from renewables; and a 20% increase in energy efficiency.

"Today's agreement on concrete targets underlines Europe's determination to promote jobs and inclusive growth. It is an important part of our commitment to securing economic recovery. We must make sure that no-one is left out, in order to emerge stronger from the crisis."

 László Andor, speaking following the conclusions of the EU summit, June 17th 2010

To reach these targets, the Commission presented in its first year of mandate seven flagship initiatives in 2010. Three of them are linked to employment, social affairs and inclusion. Other flagships, like 'An industrial policy for the globalisation era' are also important to our portfolio, especially in terms of anticipation of change, restructuring and corporate social responsibility (CSR). We can reach greater competitiveness and a higher level of job sustainability this way.

I presented the first of our three flagships together with Commissioner Vassiliou in September 2010. 'Youth on the Move   ' aims to promote the employment of young people and to help them in their transition from education to work.  This initiative aims, with 28 very concrete actions, to help young people gain the knowledge, skills and experience they need to make their first job a reality and to promote mobility within Europe. Some of the actions are the "Your first EURES job" programme and the Vacancy Monitor.

The second flagship - an Agenda for new skills and jobs   - was presented in November. It's about addressing more structural challenges in Europe's labour markets. We have 23 million people still out of work across the EU, yet at the same time, some employers are reporting difficulties in recruiting, especially for high-skill jobs. The initiative sets out 13 key actions to help reform labour markets, upgrade skills and match them with market demand. The aim is to help boost workers' employability, make it easier for them to move jobs, reduce segmentation of labour markets, improve working conditions and job quality and to create jobs.

The launch of the third flagship initiative in December, the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion    - will support the efforts and progress towards the headline target to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty by 2020. The Platform will ensure a joint commitment for action among Member States, European institutions and stakeholders. It will help step up coordination between a wider range of partners into the fight against exclusion. It also puts forward ideas for innovation and improvements that can help us all work more effectively, focusing resources where they make the most impact.

We discussed poverty not only in the context of future action, but also the very imminent challenges. The Roma summit in Córdoba in April 2010 was a chance to underline the need for policies to support Roma people inclusion and in particular to mobilise the European Social Fund Choose translations of the previous link  for this purpose. 

Only a few months later, during the summer period, the difficult situation of Roma people was put under the European media spotlight.  Following the Commission's intervention, the problematic measures targeting Roma were abolished in France, as well as several other EU Member States.

In September 2010, the Commission established a Roma Task Force to assess Member States' use of EU funds for Roma integration. As part of these efforts, I travelled to Bucharest on a high level visit to see concrete projects funded by EU funds but also to meet with Roma leaders and NGOs on the ground. Following the visit to Romania and its follow-up event in Hungary we have been able to define the main challenges (discrimination, poverty, low educational achievement, labour market barriers) and set out the EU`s role.  The Task Force findings will contribute to the EU-level framework for national Roma inclusion strategies, to be adopted in April 2011. This is our opportunity to embed European Framework for National Roma Inclusion Strategies into Europe 2020.

To focus Member States efforts on reaching all of the Europe 2020 headline targets in a coordinated manner and to keep an eye on the priorities, the Commission presented its Annual Growth Survey Choose translations of the previous link  (AGS), including the Joint Employment Report, in January 2011. This has rightly put employment at the heart of Europe 2020. It also marked the start of the first "European Semester which provides the coordination and monitoring cycle to reach our Europe 2020 targets and changes the way governments shape their economic and fiscal policies.

"Tackling unemployment and preventing long-term exclusion from the labour market is urgent given the relatively low utilisation of the labour force and the particularly sharp ageing of European population. Reforms can sometimes be painful, but I am convinced that they are crucial. It is essential that we take swift action to reform our labour markets to raise employment, people's skills, create job opportunities and enhance social inclusion".

László Andor, January 12th 2011, speaking to the media, Presentation of EU's Annual Growth Survey

LEGISLATIVE WORK

Clarifying the rules on the posting of workers and finding a solution to the rules on working time have been recurring questions from MEPs, Ministers, trade unions, business and almost every single journalist since my arrival.

Ensuring the health and safety of workers while doing more also for competitiveness won’t be easy, but we’ve made a start with the launch of the first and second stages of consultation of the working time directive, asking for social partners' views on options to review EU working time rules. We provided an overview of the latest evidence on working time trends and patterns, as well as the social and economic impact of the current rules in Member States. We also presented a detailed Report on the legal implementation of the Working Time Directive    in Member States. I am planning to present two proposals later this year: an enforcement directive on posting and a proposal to revise the Working Time Directive. These are files which will require particular attention in 2011.

The current situation of working time rules is not sustainable politically or legally. We need a fresh start and a new EU-level approach. It will not be easy, but I am confident that today’s new report on the implementation of the current rules will help us move beyond past discussions and find a balanced solution that mirrors the real needs of workers, consumers and businesses in the 21st century."

László Andor, December 21st 2010, speaking to the press, Launch of the second stage consultation with social partners on working time

Labour Day in 2010 saw new social security rules come into force, which are making life easier for Europeans on the move. They will also help pensioners, job seekers and tourists. These rules are important because without effective protection of social security rights, there is in fact no actual right to free movement. May 1st was also a chance to remember the enlargement of 15 to 25 countries and later 27, and recall the benefits of opening up Europe’s labour markets.

"The fears of immigration from EU12 to 15 have been exaggerated. The inclination to leave one's homeland and move to the west, even in a traditionally emigrant country like Poland, was never so great that it would be a threat. We have also seen how countries like the UK and Ireland benefited greatly from workers coming from the east".

László Andor, 26th April, speaking in an interview with FAZ

Preparing for inclusive and sustainable growth has involved a deep reflection on Europe's pensions systems. Just before the summer break, we launched a wide ranging consultation on how the EU can best support national efforts to make sure people can rely on adequate, sustainable and safe pensions   . Ageing populations in Europe have put existing retirement systems under strain and the financial and economic crisis has only increased the pressure. The consultation, which received almost 1,700 responses and our major conference in October has put the Commission on the map as an important voice in the debate. Our work has also helped change the orientation of discussions in many Member States. We will be presenting our follow up after the summer 2011, also pointing to some legislative initiatives at EU level

The choice we face is poorer pensioners, higher pension contributions or more people working more and longer. One of the great successes of Europe’s social model is to ensure that old age is not synonymous with poverty."

László Andor, July 7th 2010, speaking at the launch of the Green Paper on pensions

On health and safety, the launch of the new health and safety safe maintenance campaign saw the press have fun with the comical mascot Nappo, but the grave reality of over 600 deaths each year due to maintenance related accidents was picked up by all. The launching of the second stage of consultation with the social partners marked another important step towards the better protection of workers from exposure to electromagnetic fields in the area of health and safety.

EU FINANCIAL INSTRUMENTS

The financial lever for many of our policies is the European Social Fund (ESF), or the ten-ten-ten fund (10% of the EU budget, €10 billion each year, helping 10 million Europeans annually). This is our tool that translates policy into a reality on the ground for many citizens either through training or career support measures. Right after the European Council approved Europe 2020, we started discussing the future of the ESF to ensure that the ESF will fully support the implementation of our new long-term strategy. Our efforts have focused on how the ESF would be renewed to bring innovative approaches for greater effectiveness and efficiency, to leverage more and to have less errors. A Belgian presidency conference on the ESF in November allowed me to discuss how the Fund can do more to help social inclusion and poverty reduction.

Implementation of cohesion policy for the current 2007-2013 period has been accelerating including through a successful delivery of the previously agreed crisis-related adjustments and the Commission has put forward its first views on the policy's future - first in the Budget Review Communication and later in the 5th Cohesion Report. The key message that has emerged has been the need for a more effective and stronger cohesion policy in the future. The Cohesion Forum that took place in January 2011 has been an important opportunity for Member States and regions to make their voices heard before the Commission presents its first legislative proposals on the future cohesion policy, due out by summer 2011.

As a complement to the European Social Fund, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund   is another example of how the EU is helping workers. In 2010 the Commission received 31 applications for the support of some 32.000 workers. At the same time, payments of more than 100 million euro were made to help workers affected by 28 cases of redundancies in 10 Member States and that were triggered by changes in global trade patterns or the economic crisis.

Especially pertinent was the adoption in March of the new €100m microfinance facility   , which is now up and running to provide loans to people who have lost their jobs and want to start or further develop their own small business. First contracts with financial intermediaries in Belgium and the Netherlands have been concluded. We expect the Facility will provide small loans to around 45,000 budding entrepreneurs, and thus serve financial inclusion over the next eight years.

RAISING AWARENESS THROUGH EUROPEAN YEARS

Our efforts to fight poverty in 2010 were marked by the momentum created during the European Year Against Poverty and Social Exclusion   . The European Year has mobilised politicians, stakeholders and citizens. Over the last 12 months, more than 700 projects and initiatives across the Member States, Norway and Iceland were supported through EU and national-level funding.

The Year has also acted as an umbrella for many other activities and projects which received moral and political support, like the COFACE family conference, Graffiti exchange exhibition in Cologne. The opening ceremonies, the focus week around People Experiencing Poverty meeting, Solidarity Days in Riga or the closing event in Brussels attracted high public and media attention. The Year culminated in a Council Declaration in December: Working together to fight poverty in 2010 and beyond. The legacy of the European Year will contribute to the flagship initiative "European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion".

As well as the reform of Europe's pension systems, the success of the Europe 2020 strategy will largely depend on one particular age group — those born during the baby-boom following the Second World War, who are now reaching retirement age. To cope with our ageing population, we need to promote employment in Europe, focusing on more jobs and longer, better-quality working life. This is why the Commission has designated 2012 as the European Year for active ageing   to take stock of best practices and strengthen co-ordination between Member States.

CO-OPERATION

A lot of effort focused on charting the territory for the coming years but much time during my first year as a Commissioner has also been devoted to listening to stakeholders. It’s been a key part of laying the foundations for the coming years. I've been working closely with our partners in the European Parliament, visiting the employment committee to present Europe 2020 and our work programme. I’ve taken part in numerous debates in the European Parliament too, on issues like family carers, homelessness and disability and have had lively discussions on issues ranging from work-free Sundays and social dialogue to flexicurity. My team and I have over the past year met with national parliaments, NGOs, other international organisations like the World Bank, the Council of Europe and European Institutions, as well as EU level trade unions and sectoral trade unions, industry, business, analysts, academia, national and regional governments. We've also met with partners and business from beyond the EU like the US and Japan. Understanding the views of all sides is the way we can shape policies in the best interest of 500 million European citizens.

Partnership is essential to my portfolio and I took part in the first Tripartite Social Summits introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. They gathered the European workers' and employers' representatives, some of their national members and European sectoral federations, and the European institutions (Commission, Presidency of the Council, rotating Presidencies). We focused on the short-term measures to exit from the crisis as well as on the priorities of the Europe 2020 strategy in March and on growth and employment through integrated economic and social governance in October. A new Tripartite Social Forum will convene for the first time next month.

Social partners have a vital role to play in helping shape EU policies; they made important progress last year in setting up Sectoral social dialogue committees   . The Commission has helped to facilitate the setting up of their committees in the metal, education and central administration sectors.

Meeting employment and social affairs Ministers regularly has been an opportunity to push our 2020 agenda and work forward, including on issues like poverty, pensions and the role of employment and social policies in Europe's economic recovery. Important initiatives were taken on board during these Council meetings too, like improving the mobility of researchers and preventing injuries and infections to healthcare workers from sharp objects such as needle sticks – one of the most serious health and safety threats in European workplaces.

Over the past 12 months we have also worked on the social dimension of relations beyond the EU. One of the positive outcomes of the first ever G20 of Labour and Employment Ministers Summit, held in Washington in April, was a concrete set of recommendations that fed into the subsequent G20 meeting in Toronto – despite the Icelandic ash cloud keeping us out of Washington! The second meeting of employment and labour ministers will follow in the second half of 2011, under the French G20 Presidency. I am confident that the level of ambition will continue with a strong commitment to a global recovery through simultaneous job creation and rising employment rates.

In September, the IMF-ILO Oslo meeting was especially important, where I was able to urge international policymakers to better coordinate economic, social and employment policies so as to guard against a recurrence of the recent global slowdown and call for international organisations to promote joint commitments on employment and social development alongside economic policies. A joint ILO-IMF discussion paper presented at the conference sets out a series of proposals in this direction and should be an inspiration for the EU.

"2010 has been an "annus horribilis" for unemployment. If we fail to act, 2011 may still turn out to be the annus horribilis for social cohesion"

László Andor, September 13th 2010, Oslo, speaking at IMF-ILO meeting


It's been a busy first year, but only the first year…