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DG Employment and   Social Affairs

First time here ?

If this is your first visit to the Directorate General for Employment and Social Affairs homepage, this short guide should give you some help with the kind of information you can find here.

The Social Policy Agenda

  • The Social Policy Agenda
    This ambitious routemap is at the centre of our activities. Its purpose is to help the European social model modernise to accommodate the massive changes in European economy and society. The Social Policy Agenda contributes to the Union's overall aim of strengthening economic performance, creating more and better jobs and making the most of the opportunities offered by the knowledge-based society.


  • European Employment Strategy
    In 1998, the Amsterdam treaty mentioned the promotion of employment as one of the main Community objectives. This objective was set out in a strategy consisting of the four thematic priorities (or 'pillars') of employability, entrepeneurship, adaptability and equal opportunities, and described in the Employment Guidelines. Every year, these Guidelines are translated into National Action Plans for Employment (NAPs) by Member States. These are analysed by the Commission and the Council, and the results are presented in a Joint Employment Report. The findings of these Joint Employment Reports can reshape the Guidelines and country-specific Recommendations for Member States' employment policies.

    European Employment Services, or EURES, is a coordinated network establishing the free movement of workers within the 31 countries of the European Economic Area (EEA). Partners include Public Employment Services, Trades Unions and Employer Organisations. Its objectives are to
    • inform and advise potentially mobile workers on job opportunities and living and working conditions in the EEA
    • help employers recruit workers from other countries
    • advise workers and employers in crossborder regions

  • Local development
    Efforts here concentrate on increasing local and regional participation to improve employment performance. The Employment Guidelines in particular have increasingly incorporated a local dimension and the trend towards local partnership and devolution can be seen in the national implementation of the European Employment Strategy.

European Social Fund

  • ESF The European Social Fund (ESF) is the main way in which the European Union funds its strategic employment policy aims. For over 50 years, it has invested in programmes to develop skills and employability. Programmes are planned by Member States together with the European Commission and implemented through a wide projects involving both public and private organisations. These projects are selected and managed by Member States and European regions. They may include national, regional and local authorities, educational and training institutions, voluntary organisations and the social partners i.e. trades unions and works councils, industry and professional associations, and individual companies. The ESF also acts as a catalyst for new approaches to projects which encourage partnerships at many different levels and the transfer of European know-how.

  • EQUAL community initiatives
    EQUAL - which is funded by the ESF - tests new ways of tackling discrimination and inequality experienced by those in, or looking for, work. The key principles of EQUAL are : transnational co-operation, innovation, empowerment, thematic and partnership approach, dissemination and mainstreaming. EQUAL has a separate theme which addresses the needs of asylum seekers.

  • Innovative Measures (Article 6)
    The ESF also explores new approaches to the content and/or organisation of employment, including vocational training, and industrial adaptation. These are known as "Article 6" measures and include pilot projects, studies, exchanges of experience and information activities. Directly managed by the European Commission, the added value of Article 6 innovative measures comes with the transfer of any valuable lessons learned from these projects to the ESF mainstream.

Working Conditions and working organisation

  • Social Dialogue
    Dialogue between employers' and workers' representatives is a cornerstone of the European social model. A Commission paper adopted in June 2002, aims to give fresh impetus to the European Social Dialogue with the focus on three strands:
    • a call to EU employers and trades unions to improve and expand their autonomous dialogue;
    • a top-level Social summit to enhance social partner involvement in the EU strategy for economic and social reform;
    • the urgent need to boost support for social dialogue structures in the EU candidate countries.

  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
    CSR is a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns into their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis. Today, companies and stakeholders are increasingly aware that responsible behaviour is key to sustainable business success and shareholder value. CSR is also about managing change at company level in a socially responsible manner. The wider recognition of CSR's value could make an important contribution to achieving the European Union's strategic goal of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. The CSR EU Multi-Stakeholder Forum is a major instrument of the Commission strategy for promoting CSR. Chaired by the Commission, it brings together European representative organisations of employers, trades unions and civil society, as well as business networks, to promote innovation, convergence and transparency in CSR practices and tools.

  • Labour Law
    European Commission activities in the field of labour law and in the context of its role in harmonising existing legislation include the publication of documents and Directives concerning employee representation, equal treatment in employment and occupation, the organisation of working time, protection of personal data and working conditions for temporary workers.

  • Health and Safety at work
    Community action on health and safety is based on the general principle that Member States need to pay particular attention to the health and safety of workers in their working environment, and harmonise and maintain any improvements in the area. In practice, this has meant taking measures to protect workers from the risks of chemical, physical or biological agents (for example noise or vibration), but can also mean encouraging improvements in safety and health at work for specific types of workers (temporary or pregnant workers, or young people for example). The Commission adopted on 12 March 2002 the new community strategy on health and safety at work, covering the period 2002-2006 (COM(2002)118)

  • Free movement of workers
    Access to employment in another Member State is a fundamental aspect of the free movement of people within the European Union. The sheer size of the European job market provides many opportunities for workers looking for work and for employers to find people with the right skills, and which could enhance employment and economic growth. The purpose of activities in this area is to open European labour markets to all EU workers. This right of access includes a right to equal treatment in respect of working conditions, as well as to social, economic and cultural integration for migrant workers and their family.

  • Coordination of social security schemes
    Workers' right to free movement is supported by a system for coordinating social security schemes. The European Employment Strategy website presents easily understandable information about social security rights and obligations, and describes the relevant Community and national legislation. You can use this information when, for example, you have to deal with the social security system of another Member State, for example if you are moving to another country in the European Union or simply staying temporarily in another Member State.

Inclusive Society

  • Social situation and demography
    This section provides analysis and data on population trends and social conditions. It also provides information on the activities of the 'European Observatory on the social situation and demography'.

  • Social inclusion
    The fight against unacceptable levels of social exclusion has been fully established as a social policy objective, and Member States now coordinate their efforts through an annual process akin to the Employment Strategy. Building a more 'inclusive' European Union is seen as essential in achieving the Union's long term strategic goal of sustained economic growth, more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

  • Social protection in the EU
    The Commission uses the 'coordination method' used for employment to compare Member States' social systems (social protection, pensions, healthcare etc.) to try to identify how Europe can deal with demographic and population changes. By using the MISSOC (social protection in the Member States) service, you will find details of the full range of social protection systems in the Member States, from financing, to healthcare, sickness benefits and pensions, as well as a regular bulletin on specific social protection issues.

  • Anti-discrimination and fundamental social rights
    Here you will find information about the Commission's activities to:
    • combat discrimination on grounds of racial and ethnic origin, religion and belief, disability, age and sexual orientation,
    • foster dialogue with civil society organisations and
    • promote implementation of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

  • Civil dialogue
    In 2000, the Commission published a discussion paper on "The Commission and non-governmental organisations (NGOs): building a stronger partnership". The paper had two objectives: to give an overview of the existing relationships between the Commission and NGOs, and to suggest possible ways of strengthening them. This discussion paper is still the basis for providing a more coherent Commission-wide framework for cooperation, than was previously achieved.

  • Disability issues
    The European Union Disability Strategy aims to create a society that is open and accessible to all. A major part of this strategy is identifying and eliminating barriers. The strategy uses a three-fold approach of cooperation, participation of people with disabilities and the eventual mainstreaming of disability issues in policy making. 2003 is the European Year of People with Disabilities. The year will drive progress towards achieving equal rights for people with disabilities. Across Europe attention will be focused on the many areas of European society where barriers and discrimination still exist for the one in 10 Europeans with a disability.

Gender equality

  • Equality between women and men
    This means the equal participation and representation of all citizens - women and men alike - in the economy, in decision-making, and in social, cultural and civil life. The EU has a long-standing commitment to promoting gender equality. The Community legal framework ensures that women and men are equal before the law. Moreover, equal treatment legislation is a firmly established integral part of the Community acquis that countries applying for EU membership have to respect. Considerable progress has been made regarding women in the Member States, but gender inequality still exists. Women's concerns, needs and aspirations should be taken into account and assume the same importance as men's in the design and implementation of policies. This is known as the 'gender mainstreaming approach'. In parallel to this, persistent inequalities are matched by specific measures.

Horizontal activities

  • Enlargement
    Enlargement is possibly the greatest challenge for the European Union as it prepares for the 21st century. There is an important employment and social dimension to the enlargement process. The European Union has developed specific Community acquis in the areas of working conditions, gender equality, health and safety in the workplace, discrimination and free movement of workers. Member States have stepped up their policy cooperation on employment, social protection and social inclusion. The European Social Fund supports the implementation of the European Employment Strategy in Member States. The EU attaches a high level of importance to the involvement of social partners and representatives of civil society in the policy debate. Candidate countries will have to take on board this employment and social dimension by the time they join the European Union.

  • International Cooperation
    The relevance of the European Social Agenda goes beyond the borders of the European Union. Within the context of globalisation, international cooperation is becoming more and more important. The Commission actively cooperates with international organisations such as the UN, the OECD and the ILO, and with industrialised countries such as the US and Japan with a view to promoting the EU social model and its achievements as well as core labour standards, and to learn from the experience of other countries.

  • Knowledge society
    We often speak of the 'information society', defined by the increased prevalence of information and information and communication technologies, or a 'knowledge(-based) society', stressing the fact that investment in intangible, human and social capital is seen as a valuable asset alongside knowledge and creativity. These changes can mean new employment possibilities, more fulfilling jobs, new tools for education and training, easier access to public services, and increased inclusion of disadvantaged people or regions. This section presents European Union activities which have been established to help you access opportunities and avoid the risks of this new society. You can also find research findings on up-to-date developments.

Green Paper

2007 - European Year of equal opportunities for all