The European Employment Strategy Social Policy

Essay add: 9-01-2017, 13:21   /   Views: 109

In the past decade traditional governance of social policy at EU level has undergone significant structural changes which have led to new governance structures encouraging more interaction between public, private, non-governmental, and non-profit organisations in order to complement central government institutions in policy formulation and implementation (Peters and Pierre, 2006). Nevertheless, both traditional and new governance structures carry out similar activities, such as "setting priorities and selecting among them, resolving conflicts both at the programmatic level and at the level of social interests and implementing policy decisions" (Peters and Pierre 2006, pp. 215-216).

One such social policy area that has been affected by the new EU governance approach was employment policy which deviated from a favoured 'top-down' hierarchical policy formulation and implementation towards a more consensual approach of decision-making what came to be known as the European Employment Strategy (EES). This initiated shift was rooted in the belief that old-type - 'one size fits all' - EU policy-making and conventional 'hard law' control mechanisms may turn out to be discordant and thus, inadequate to effectively address the perspicuous challenges faced at EU level.

Hence, I am going to introduce the main features of the EES and identify the key actors involved in the EES and evaluate its major strengths and weaknesses as a new governance method. Finally, I will assess the advantages and disadvantages of the EES and attempt to rate the governance of social policy at EU level with reference to the area of employment policy.

The European Employment Strategy: main features, methods, and key actors

The EU launched the EES in 1997 at the Luxembourg Jobs Summit and introduced the new governance method as a legally non-binding, non-sanctioning, actor-oriented, multi-level employment policy process based on the principle of subsidiarity with the aim "to reach common targets and objectives for more and better jobs in Europe" (EC, 2007, p.3). Subsequently, in 1998 the European Commission developed employment guidelines which were headed under four main pillars "entrepreneurship, employability, adaptability and equal opportunities" (Johnson, 2005, pp.124-125; Régent, 2002). Then, in 2000 in Lisbon the EU refocused its strategy "to become 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" by 2010 (EC, 2007, p. 3; Armstrong et al, 2008, p. 413). This lead to the creation of the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) which took "the specific features of the EES - Commission-proposed and Council-approved guidelines, national reporting, a Joint Commission-Council report, and Commission-proposed recommendations - and identified them as a mode of governance" with the slight distinction that the EES has a treaty base, namely the Amsterdam Treaty (Johnson, 2005, p. 126; Smismans, 2004). Thus, the EES contains specific quantitative and time-set targets which "are partially incorporated in the Employment Guidelines (EGs)[1], while in the other OMCs quantitative indicators are only being developed to measure performance and policy development" (Buchs, 2007, p. 28). The Amsterdam Treaty established three principal objectives: first, to enhance the legitimacy of EU-level action; second, to increase the productivity of Social Europe; and, third, to precipitate national employment reforms (Goetschy, 1999).

Throughout the first period of its implementation (1997-2003) the EES was closely associated with the comprehensive goal of improving economic performance and competitiveness (Régent, 2002). Since 2003, the EES was modified in three significant aspects (Rhodes, 2005). First, EES was focused on ten outcome-oriented preferences under three goals (full employment; quality and productivity at work; social cohesion and social inclusion). Second, the peer review method concentrated on the implementation of the employment recommendations (King, 2003, in Rhodes, 2005). Third, the schedule was altered to allow enough time for the European Parliament to put forward its view to the European Council. In 2005 EES was changed to harmonize employment policies with macroeconomic and microeconomic policies of the EU. At present it incorporates a three year period but preserves the same structure: policy formulation, policy implementation and policy evaluation.

The Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs have veto power. The Council of Ministers has the last word on the EGs, Recommendations, Evaluation of member states submissions and the Joint Employment Report (JER). The European Commission acts as persuader on preferences of member states, coordinator, and draws the proposals for all the above and co-decides with the Council the JER. The European Council assesses the circumstances of employment at EU level and provides political orientation to the Commission and the Council. The European Parliament and the agents of civil society have a minor advisory and insignificant role. The list of required advisories includes: national partners, the Economic and Social Council, the Labour and Social Affairs Council, the Employment Committee, and the Committee of Regions. National governments have the most vital function in the actual implementation of the EGs. They develop and adopt the National Action Plans (NAPs) for Employment now known as National Reform Programmes (NRPs) and submit their implementation reports to the Commission.[2]

The EES impact on member state policy

In 2002 the Commission initiated a five-year report of the EES process containing "national impact evaluation studies" by the member states and "an aggregate assessment of labour market performance at EU level". The more active unemployment policies have concentrated on training, education and tax incentives provision which led to ten million new jobs and a decrease of four million unemployed (Busby, 2005). Nevertheless, the review recognized that in most incidents there was an uneven impact across countries (Mosher and Trubek, 2003; Régent, 2002). Insignificant change was reported in the Netherlands and in Italy. France and Greece reported significant changes in policies (e.g. real employment growth), policy making (improved social dialogue, long-term reform focus) and interministerial cooperation (Régent, 2002).

Provided that all responsibility for the formulation and implementation of NRPs lies with national governments (Garcia et al., 2004), the EES effect across member states differs widely with respect to the distinct responses of national authorities to the EES objectives. The refusal or willingness of governments to adopt EES recommendations can be explained by looking at the variations in national welfare and industrial relations systems. The probability that EES goals, such as the increased protection of vulnerable workers, are adopted in labour markets with minimal regulation is relatively doubtful (Busby, 2005).

  1. see Appendix 1,2, and 3 for Employment Guidelines and EES targets.
  2. see Appendix 4 for a diagram of the EU employment policy cycle.

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