The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2005

The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2005

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Press Release
François Biltgen: "We remain totally committed to Social Europe"

Date of release : 03-03-2005

Policy area : Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs

Event : EPSCO Council

The "Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs" Council (ESPHCA) met on Thursday, 3 March 2005 in Brussels, under the Luxembourg Presidency of Minister for Labour and Employment François Biltgen, and with Mars Di Bartolomeo, Minister for Health and Social Security. Marie-Josée Jacobs was also present in her capacity as Minister for Equal Opportunities. The items on the agenda pertained primarily to employment and social policy.

The session began with a policy debate on the ESPHCA Council’s contribution to the forthcoming European Council meeting of 22 and 23 March 2005, where one of the main topics will be a mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy.

As a reminder, the strategic objective of the March 2000 Lisbon Process is to ensure that the European Union became "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010, capable of economic and sustainable growth, with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion." But, as shown by the report of the high-level group, chaired by Wim Kok in November 2004, and by the Commission’s report of 2 February 2005, the progress made over the past five years is largely insufficient.

The "ESPHCA" Council has acknowledged the importance of the messages in the Commission’s communication to the European Council’s spring meeting in response to the challenges Europe is currently facing. At the same time, the concerns that certain delegations have expressed in view of the risk of reducing the scope of the social protection and sustainable development components in favour of growth and employment were taken into consideration. 

Speaking on this subject, François Biltgen specified that "the Council has clearly established that this was not the case," adding that, "of course, there will be no social cohesion or sustainable development without competitiveness, without growth and without job creation. These are certainly the necessary conditions but they are not sufficient to establish more social cohesion or more sustainable development." 

At the end of these discussions, the Council therefore unanimously adopted the key messages that will be passed on to the spring meeting of the European Council as the "ESPHCA" Council’s contribution. These different messages were prepared jointly by the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee. These key messages are based on the Commission’s communication entitled "A New Start for the Lisbon Strategy," but also on the Social Agenda, the joint reports on employment and on social protection and inclusion, and on the Commission’s report on equality between men and women. For François Biltgen, "these key messages are very clear signs that the Lisbon Strategy’s social pillar is still alive and that the "ESPHCA" Council must continue to play a central role in this Lisbon Process." The Council also unanimously adopted the joint reports on employment and social protection and social inclusion and forwarded them with their respective appendices to the spring meeting of the European Council.

In the legislative area, the "ESPHCA" Council agreed on a partial general orientation on the draft decision establishing a Community programme for employment and social solidarity (PROGRESS). It is partial, since it was agreed that the article on the financial package for this programme would be left unresolved until there is agreement on negotiations for the new financial perspectives. During the period from 2007 to 2013, this Community programme for employment and social solidarity should help achieve the Lisbon strategic objectives in the areas of employment and social affairs. On this subject, François Biltgen expressed his satisfaction, "over two months, we successfully completed some excellent work by agreeing on this programme’s content." The Council will revisit the draft decision once the European Parliament has handed down its opinion and will progress as far as possible.

In another strong message for social Europe, the Council reached an agreement on the draft conclusions on the Social Dimension of Globalisation. "As such, globalisation is not a bad thing," François Biltgen stated, "provided it is global and therefore not limited to the economic area and that it takes the social area into account," he added. Following the world Commission’s report on the social dimension of globalisation (ILO) of February 2004 and the Commission’s communication on this subject, the Luxembourg Presidency considered that it was important to send a clear political message from the European Union on the need to improve coordination on social governance issues within the context of globalisation. On this occasion, François Biltgen underscored the role of the fundamental values that the European Union defends. "Europe is a community of values that we must export. It is up to us Europeans to work so that decent employment can exist throughout the world."

The Luxembourg Presidency informed the Council members of the progress made on work relating to the proposal for a directive on the revision of working time. The Council took note of the technical work carried out on the issue of opt-out and is now waiting for the European Parliament to adopt a position. The Luxembourg Presidency hopes to reach an agreement soon on the entire directive. Discussions will resume during the forthcoming Council meeting in June in Luxembourg.

Regarding social security, the Council chaired by Luxembourg’s Minister Mars Di Bartolomeo developed a general policy on a draft rule that updates the rules on the coordination of social security schemes for people who travel within the European Union. 

Finally, the Council was informed about the Social Protection Committee’s study of private pension schemes. This study relates to the current and future roles of private pension schemes in Member State retirement systems and their possible contribution to strengthening the financial sustainability of these systems.

Last update of this page on : 21-03-2005