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Economic and social cohesion
The origins of economic and social cohesion go back to the Treaty of Rome where a reference is made in the preamble to reducing disparities in development between the regions. However, it was not until the seventies that Community action was taken to coordinate the national instruments and provide additional financial resources. Subsequently these measures proved inadequate given the situation in the Community where the establishment of the internal market, contrary to forecasts, had failed to even out the differences between regions.
With the adoption of the Single European Act in 1986, economic and social cohesion proper was made an objective, as well as the single market. In the preparation of economic and monetary union, this provided a legal basis from 1988 onwards for Community action to become the central pillar of a comprehensive development policy.
The Maastricht Treaty finally incorporated the policy into the Treaty establishing the European Community (Articles 130a to 130e, now renumbered 158 to 162). It is an expression of solidarity between the Member States and regions of the European Union. This means balanced and sustainable development, reducing structural disparities between regions and countries and promoting equal opportunities for all individuals. In practical terms it is achieved by means of a variety of financing operations, principally through the Structural Funds.
Every three years the European Commission must present a report on progress made in achieving economic and social cohesion and on how the various means provided for in the Treaty have contributed to it.
The future of economic and social cohesion was one of the major issues discussed in the Commission's Agenda 2000 communication (presented on 15 July 1997), largely because of the financial implications. It has been the Community's second largest budget item from 1994 to 1999 (around 35% of the budget). Its importance was confirmed in the financial perspective 2000-2006.
With enlargement looking set to bring in countries with national incomes well below the Community average, the Community structural policy was reformed in 1999 in order to improve its effectiveness and its budgetary allocation has been increased from EUR 208 billion to EUR 213 billion for 2000-2006.

Employment is one of the key concerns of the Member States, for unemployment is running at a high level (currently around 11% in the Union). Following on from the Commission's 1993 White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment, the Essen European Council (9 and 10 December 1994) identified five priority areas for action to promote employment:

  • improving employment opportunities by promoting investment in vocational training;
  • increasing the employment-intensiveness of growth;
  • reducing non-wage labour costs;
  • increasing the effectiveness of labour-market policies;
  • improving help for groups which are particularly hard hit by unemployment.

The Council and the Commission presented a joint report on the action taken on these five priorities at the Dublin European Council (13 and 14 December 1996).
Similarly the Confidence Pact for Employment presented by the Commission President in June 1996 seeks to mobilise all the actors concerned in a genuine strategy for employment, to make employment a matter of common interest at European level and incorporate the fight against unemployment in a medium and long-term vision of society.
With the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, employment is now enshrined as one of the European Community's objectives. The Community has been assigned the new responsibility of working towards a coordinated strategy for employment together with the Member States. To this end, a new title on employment (Title VIII) has been written into the EC Treaty, under which:

  • employment to be taken into consideration in other Community policies;
  • coordination mechanisms to be established at Community level (adoption by the Council of guidelines for employment and surveillance of their implementation in the Member States, creation of an advisory committee on employment);
  • the possibility for the Council, acting by a qualified majority, to adopt incentive measures, including pilot projects (in addition to the Structural Funds).

An extraordinary summit on employment was held on 21 November 1997, focusing on employability, entrepreneurship, adaptability and equal opportunities. The Member States then decided to bring forward to 1998 the application of the provisions on coordinating their employment policies.

Enlargement was originally the term used to refer to the four successive waves of new members joining the Community. Nine countries have so far joined the six founder members - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - at the following times:

  • 1973: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom;
  • 1981: Greece;
  • 1986: Portugal and Spain;
  • 1995: Austria, Finland and Sweden.

With the growing number of applicants for membership (13, of which 12 have already opened negotiations with the European Union), the concept of enlargement has taken on a very special significance. There is a widespread conviction that the system established by the Treaty of Rome cannot function effectively in a Union of 25 to 30 members.
Any attempt at enlargement within the current system could impair the smooth operation of the institutions and the development of Community policies. To ensure that enlargement does not hinder European integration, any further accessions must be accompanied by reform of the institutions and of some Union policies.
With regard to the institutional problems created by enlargement, a Protocol on the institutions annexed to the EU Treaty by the Treaty of Amsterdam provided that one year before the membership of the European Union exceeded twenty, a new Intergovernmental Conference would be convened.
However, it was decided to launch a new Intergovernmental Conference on 15 February 2000, to make the changes to the Treaties needed to ensure that enlargement does not weaken the European Union.
Regarding the adjustment of European policies to suit a Europe with almost double the current number of Member States, the 1997 Agenda 2000 document and the resulting 1999 legislative package have reshaped the agricultural and structural polices, pre-accession aid and the Union's financial perspective to accommodate the challenges of enlargement.

The aim of Community environment policy is to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment and to protect people's health. It also sets great store by the prudent and rational use of natural resources. Lastly, it seeks to promote measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems (Article 174, formerly Article 130r).
Policy formulation is subject to different decision-making procedures depending on the area concerned. So to attain the objectives listed in Article 174, the Council:

  • acts under the cooperation procedure, after consulting the Economic and Social Committee, for decisions on the measures to be taken and on the implementation of programmes;
  • acts unanimously, after consulting the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee, where fiscal provisions and provisions relating to town and country planning or land use (with the exception of waste management and general measures) are involved or where a Member State's choice in the matter of energy is significantly affected (Article 175(2), formerly Article 130s(2)) (under this procedure the Council may also define matters referred to in Article 175(2), on which decisions are taken by a qualified majority);
  • acts under the codecision procedure, after consulting the Economic and Social Committee, for the adoption of general action programmes setting out the priority objectives to be attained.

The Treaty of Amsterdam has enshrined the concept of "sustainable development" as one of the European Union's objectives, while environmental protection requirements have been given greater weight in other Community policies, especially in the context of the single market.
The provisions allowing a Member State to apply stricter rules than the harmonised rules have been clarified and doing so has been made easier. Under certain narrowly defined conditions, a Member State may now adopt new measures in response to a specific environmental problem.
The Commission monitors these stricter measures to ensure that they do not constitute an obstacle to the functioning of the single market. The Commission itself has undertaken to prepare environmental impact assessments when making proposals that may have significant environmental implications.
Lastly, decision-making has been simplified, with the codecision procedure replacing the cooperation procedure that was previously required in certain cases.

Equal opportunities:
Two key elements of the general principle of equal opportunities are the ban on discrimination on grounds of nationality (Article 12 of the EC Treaty, formerly Article 6) and equal pay for men and women (Article 141 of the EC Treaty, formerly Article 119). It is intended to apply to all fields, particularly economic, social, cultural and family life.
The Treaty of Amsterdam added a new Article 13 to the Treaty, reinforcing the principle of non-discrimination, which is closely linked to equal opportunities. Under this new Article, the Council has the power to take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

The aim of the European Spatial Development Perspective, adopted in May 1999 by the Ministers of the 15 Member States responsible for regional planning is to improve the coordination of national policies in this field. It is based on three key principles: the development of a balanced and polycentric urban system and a fresh relationship between cities and the countryside; the assurance of equal access to knowledge infrastructures; and the sustainable development, intelligent management and conservation of nature and cultural assets.

European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF):
The EAGGF finances the EU's common agricultural policy. Its purpose is to provide market support and promote structural adjustments in agriculture. The EAGGF is divided into two sections: the Guarantee Section finances price support measures and export refunds to guarantee farmers stable prices, while the Guidance Section grants subsidies for rationalization schemes, modernization and structural improvements in farming .

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF):
The ERDF is intended to help reduce imbalances between regions of the Community. The Fund was set up in 1975 and grants financial assistance for development projects in the poorer regions. In terms of financial resources, the ERDF is by far the largest of the EU's Structural Funds.

European Social Fund (ESF):
Established in 1960, the ESF is the main instrument of Community social policy. It provides financial assistance for vocational training, retraining and job-creation schemes. Around 75% of the funding approved goes towards combating youth unemployment. With the increase in budget resources under the Delors II package, changes were made in the Social Fund and the focus moved to the new goals of improving the functioning of the labour markets and helping to reintegrate unemployed people into working life. Further action will tackle equal opportunities, helping workers adapt to industrial change and changes in production systems.


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