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5 Employment, Human Resource Development and Cohesion

The European Employment Strategy (EES) was launched only a few years ago at the end of 1997 and is built on several processes. The Union's role is a coordinating one, the Member States remaining responsible for the design and delivery of employment policy.

A new operational framework, particularly in the Luxembourg process …

The Luxembourg process embodies a number of elements which are important for its success:

  • First, it is founded on commonly defined objectives, which are based on shared values among the Member States and cover issues which are felt to be of common concern for employment policy.

  • These objectives are transparent and, therefore, open to public scrutiny and criticism.

  • A number of appropriate ways to measure progress towards the desired outcomes are defined either in terms of quantitative or qualitative indicators.

  • As the focus is on outcomes at the EU level, the definition of the means and conditions under which programmes and policies are implemented is left to individual Member States, which are responsible for their own employment policy.

  • Peer pressure through annual examination and comparative review is used to steer the course of policy and enhance the effectiveness of action.

This method establishes a balance between EU Union level coordination in the definition of common objectives and outcomes and Member State responsibilities in deciding the detailed content of policy.

… which represents a new method of co-ordination

The European Employment Strategy is based on a number of key principles, which distinguishes the 'Luxembourg' open method of coordination from previous attempts to develop a credible European approach to employment policy. These principles are:

  • Subsidiarity. The definition of the means and conditions under which programmes and policies are implemented is left to individual Member States.

  • Convergence. Commonly agreed employment objectives are pursued through concerted action, where each Member State contributes to raising the EU average performance. This principle has been made more concrete still by the Lisbon European Council in March 2000, where full employment was adopted as an overriding goal of the Union, together with the objectives of raising the overall employment rate in the EU from 62% to 70% by 2010 and the employment rate of women from 52% to over 60%.

  • Management by objectives.

  • Country monitoring.

  • An integrated approach. The Luxembourg process does not involve only Ministries of Labour and Employment, but commits national governments as a whole as well as a wide range of other interested parties.


The objectives of the Luxembourg process are given operational meaning in the Employment Guidelines' four pillars: employability (enhancing the chances of individuals to remain in, enter or re-enter the labour market, providing early assistance to the unemployed, preparing young people for the world of work, making the tax-benefit and training systems more employment friendly), entrepreneurship (developing a culture of enterprise, making it easier to start and run businesses), adaptability (helping employees and enterprises to be more flexible, modernising the legal and organisational framework of employment), equal opportunities (developing pro-active policies which will enable more women to take up employment, at all levels and in all sectors, better reconcile work and family life and facilitate a return to work after a period of absence).

The force of Recommendations

The instrument of Recommendations - first used for 2000 - has demonstrated its value in focusing Member State efforts on key challenges. Most Member States have taken action to respond to the Recommendations addressed to them. The 52 Recommendations adopted for 2000 referred to youth unemployment, long-term unemployment, disincentives to employment embodied in the tax or benefit systems, the employment potential of the service sector, social partnership, gender gaps and statistical systems. Most of the Recommendations have been kept (entirely or in amended form), because their implementation exceeds the timeframe of a single year; 8 Recommendations were dropped because sufficient progress had been made - as regards services (Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy), the administrative burden on companies (Spain), statistical systems (Germany, UK) and social partnership (France). New Recommendations were included, putting additional emphasis on two new priority issues, which deserve increasing policy attention: achieving a more balanced policy-mix across the four pillars through a more comprehensive approach and lifelong learning. For 2001, the Commission proposes to address the Recommendations to Member States (see Table A.29 in Annex).

A learning strategy, reviewing itself …

It is noteworthy that the Luxembourg process itself is subject to critical assessment. In 2000, a 'Mid-term Review' was carried out in order to identify the improvements it initiated and the weaker points where further action could be needed. The review identified some important changes and successes (in particular, it brought the employment challenge and the employment objectives to the forefront of European and national debate, linked economic and social policy more closely together, created an integrated framework for structural reform, led to increased involvement of a wide range of actors and to greater transparency of employment policies and increased political accountability), while enabling the Guidelines to be refocused on the main Lisbon objectives. But it also identified a number of continuing challenges.

Despite overall improvement, regional differences in labour market performance remain substantial and have increased further in some Member States.

The regional pattern of employment has changed little since 1980, and there appears to be little evidence of a more balanced distribution of net job creation between regions.

The Employment Guidelines took account of this situation from the outset and drew attention to the role of local and regional authorities in employment policy. As noted in the Joint Employment Report 2000, the importance of action at local and regional level is increasingly recognised by Member States, but more needs to be done to increase cooperation between the different levels of government to develop a comprehensive regional and local employment strategy; regional and local authorities and other local actors need to become more involved in the design and implementation of the relevant guidelines, so adding a local dimension to the EES. This point is reflected in the proposed Guideline 12. 1

Labour market bottlenecks are emerging in a number of Member States. These call for targeted action to improve employability, both in general and of people at risk of social exclusion, in particular. Education systems and continuing training are of crucial importance.

Despite improvements in education systems (often supported in Objective 1 regions by the Structural Funds), a number of young people still leave education too early with too few qualifications. This can lead to difficulties adapting to technological change and to social exclusion. The cohesion countries face the greatest difficulties in this respect. Measures to combat early school leaving feature in all of the National Action Plans (NAPs) produced for 2000, except that of Spain. Most Member States have broadened support for young people with learning difficulties. Many have introduced specific measures aimed at target groups (people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, disadvantaged young people) and at areas where drop-out rates are high. For example, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, and the UK have established special educational action zones designed to keep young people in education and training , to increase rates of achievement and tackle social exclusion.

The clear benefits from the Information Society represent a threat for those excluded from the IT revolution. The Lisbon Summit highlighted the major efforts needed to ensure that all share in these benefits. There are a number of examples of efforts in Member States (Greece, Portugal) to provide education and training for people with learning difficulties through ICT and to develop special support to improve ICT skills for unskilled workers and for those in specific sectors. This should promote social inclusion in the Member States concerned. Action, however, is uneven across the Union and more needs to be done.

All the NAPs put employment policies for people with disabilities firmly on the policy agenda. In many Member States, there has been a shift in emphasis away from programmes targeted at those with disabilities towards a more mainstream approach which encourages them to participate in general active labour market policies. However, there are specific measures in a number of Member States. Three of the cohesion countries (Portugal, Greece and Spain) have set targets for the participation of people with disabilities in training and other employability measures.

There is also some evidence from the NAPs for 2000 to suggest that Member States are taking greater account of the needs of ethnic minorities in the development of employment policy. Nevertheless, there are differences between Member States both in the interpretation of what is meant by ethnic minorities and in the policy-mix between promoting direct integration in the labour market and measures to fight discrimination. Most tend to focus on integration. However, a few Member States adopt a mix of the two (Denmark, Sweden, UK). In some Member States (France and Portugal), there has been a public debate on discrimination at work, reflecting consultation undertaken at the EU level by the Commission on the implementation of Article 13 of the Treaty.

The horizontal objective of gender mainstreaming has been only partly implemented and policies still tend to be presented as gender-neutral.

Over the five years to 1999, almost two-thirds of the 6.8 million net additional jobs in the EU were taken by women. However, over 70% of these jobs were part-time. Other labour market indicators suggest that there is still some way to go to achieve greater equality of opportunity in the labour market.

The NAPs confirm that Member States have improved their implementation of gender mainstreaming. However, although there has been some progress in improving the gender-impact analysis of policy initiatives (particularly in Finland and Ireland), many countries appear to lack plans or measures in this regard.

It has not been easy in all cases to coordinate the Luxembourg process with the budget process, which translates the objectives, commitments and measures envisaged into (possibly multi-annual) budgetary allocations.

Similarly, there remains the challenge of integrating, at the national level, the contribution of other instruments, such as the European Structural Funds (and in particular, the European Social Fund), into the implementation of the NAPs.

The translation of the objectives within the adaptability pillar into action is lagging behind. Much of the action under this pillar is the responsibility of the social partners, who have a major stake in contributing to more and better jobs and whose cooperation is needed for implementing measures in the workplace. Not all Member States make it easy for the social partners to be involved, and many NAPs, through inadequate reporting, fail to reflect activity and initiatives actually taking place. Nonetheless, the onus is on the social partners to become more active, and more transparently so, in this regard. In order to encourage progress, the Employment Guidelines 2001 invite the social partners to create 'a process within the process', ie to be responsible for the development of, and reporting on, actions within their remit which are consistent with the overall objectives in the Employment Guidelines.

… adapting to new circumstances…

The Commission proposal for the Employment Guidelines 2001 has also been influenced by the Lisbon Summit conclusions. Overriding strategic priorities have been included in an introductory section. The new emphasis put on full employment, the role of the social partners, lifelong learning, educational attainment and social inclusion have also been taken into account. Some of the Guidelines have been rationalised (eg lifelong learning is now addressed in one instead of several Guidelines) or clarified (eg the potential role of local and regional authorities in employment policy) and more concrete targets have been included. New issues, such as labour market bottlenecks and undeclared work, have been addressed.

… and preparing for the future

The Luxembourg process is treaty based (Article 128) and as such there is no time limit defined. In 2002, the overall results of the strategy and its objectives will be reviewed and an overall impact - evaluation will be carried out to enable policy makers to consider strategic options for a revision of the Guidelines. This evaluation process will start soon (at Member State and EU level) and should provide the necessary information for the political decisions needed in 2002. Two separate strands need to be distinguished in the exercise:

  • policy evaluation, focusing on those areas where the Employment Guidelines can be expected to have influenced policy choices at national level as well as the effect of those choices;
  • macro-evaluation, assessing the progress made towards achieving the key objectives of the EES - combating unemployment, increasing employment rates, improving the adaptability of the labour force and the responsiveness of labour markets, reducing gender gaps and developing lifelong learning.

  1. "All actors at the regional and local levels must be mobilised to implement the European Employment Strategy … Member States will encourage local and regional authorities to develop strategies for employment in order to exploit fully the possibilities offered by job creation at local level."

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