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13.6.  Appraisal and outlook of the European social policy

    The common social policy makes an important contribution to European integration, notably in helping achieve the social cohesion necessary among the Member States. It is interesting to note in the following paragraphs that each of the four wings of this policy makes a different contribution to the integration process. They, nevertheless, reinforce each other and interact with other common policies, notably the economic and monetary, industrial, research and development ones, in fostering the social cohesion necessary in an economic and monetary union.

    The freedom of movement of workers was essential for the completion of the internal market and, therefore, was examined in the chapter on the common market. By virtue of the European regulations adopted in their favour, migrant workers and self-employed persons from any Member State enjoy fair conditions compared with nationals of the host country with regard to access to employment, social security, the education and vocational training of their children, living and working conditions and the right to exercise union rights. The common labour market is handicapped, however, by the existence of different languages, customs and working methods and, although the EU is taking measures to overcome these hurdles to the free movement of workers, it will certainly need much time before it encompasses a really homogeneous labour market.

    The common employment policy is striving to ensure that the national employment policies and the common policies of the EU, notably in the economic and monetary field, work together in a consistent manner so as to boost economic reforms and employment while maintaining price stability. The coordinated employment strategy aims to harness structural reforms and modernisation to improve the efficiency of the labour market, while maintaining a non-inflationary growth dynamic. The employment guidelines, agreed by the Council, help the Member States to devise their own employment strategies, while pursuing common goals, such as: improving employability, with the emphasis on suitable training; developing entrepreneurship; encouraging the adaptability of the work force; and strengthening equal opportunities policies for women and men.

    The common education and training policies complement the common employment policy by encouraging the adaptation of the work force to the new conditions of the industrial and service sectors in Europe and in the rest of the world [see section 13.4]. The cooperation and exchange of experiences through the European programmes helps the Member States develop the European dimension in education, the teaching of languages, the vocational training and retraining needed in the information society and in the global economy. At the same time, these programmes build networks of teachers, instructors and young people who participate actively in the European integration process [see section 9.4].

    The common policy for the improvement of living and working conditions is aimed at the convergence of social protection systems and through it at the social cohesion of the Union [see section 13.5]. European directives fixing common minimum standards guarantee the rights, the physical safety and health of workers, particularly the women and the young, in all Member States. The establishment of a framework of basic minimum standards provides a bulwark against using low social standards as an instrument of unfair economic competition. The social bedrock, which is thus being built, is indispensable for the good functioning of economic and monetary union where the competition between the various regions of the Union is enhanced. However, economic and social developments in European countries make it necessary to modernise social protection systems in order to attain four main objectives: creating more incentives to work and provide a secure income; safeguarding pensions with sustainable pension schemes; promoting social inclusion; and ensuring the high quality and sustainability of health protection.

    At present, the Union has to address major industrial change both of a quantitative and qualitative nature: the globalisation of production and markets, the acceleration of technological change and the changes to production systems [see section 17.1]. These factors as a whole are having a profound effect on the Union's industrial scene and a significant impact on employment and the dynamics of human resources in the European Union. Workers' qualifications must be adapted to meet future changes and to minimise the economic and social cost of changes already occurring.

    The joint Council and Commission reports on employment note the progress made in the employment field throughout the Union (increase in labour productivity, job creation, reduction in unemployment, etc.) in line with the objectives set at the Lisbon European Council. Significant persistent weaknesses nevertheless indicate the need for continuing structural reform, particularly in the face of a less favourable economic outlook. Key issues for the future include: measures to boost employment rates, improve the quality of work and promote equal opportunities and active ageing, investment in human resources, a more effective strategy geared to social inclusion and greater emphasis on regional disparities. The challenge of the European employment strategy consists in raising the employment rate by promoting employability and by removing obstacles and disincentives to take up or remain in a job, while preserving high protection standards of the European social model.

    While wealth creation is essential for social progress, this progress cannot be founded simply on the basis of the competitiveness of economies, but also on the efficiency of European society as a whole. This efficiency can itself be founded on a well-educated, highly motivated and adaptable working population. Economic and social progress must, therefore, go hand in hand to preserve the shared values, which form the basis of the European social model. These include the market economy, democracy and pluralism, respect of individual rights, free collective bargaining equality of opportunity for all, social welfare and solidarity. Modernisation of the European social model is essential in the face of the ageing of the population, which threatens the financial sustainability of social systems, and as a response to globalisation, which challenges Europe's competitiveness; it is also vital from the point of view of maintaining high levels of prosperity, social cohesion, environmental protection and quality of life in Europe.

    However, since 2009, the social policies of the EU and of the Member States are handicapped by the global financial and economic crisis. The budgetary discipline imposed in the context of the single monetary policy of the Union [see section 7.3.2] is blocking the development and is increasing the unemployment of the poorest countries of the Eurozone. The financial assistance extended to the partners threatened by bankruptcy is accompanied by strict conditions of budgetary discipline, which aggravate their social problems. Economic and social cohesion and the European social model are sacrificed at the altar of the excessive deficit procedure. To restrain this trend, the European Stability Mechanism [see section 7.3] should be associated with a generous increase of the resources of the structural funds, in particular the European social fund, capable of raising the funding of education and training programmes and fighting unemployment in the poor regions of the Union.

    Moreover, the measures adopted in the context of the Lisbon strategy and of the new ''Europe 2020'' strategy are more and more taken with the open method of coordination rather than with the ordinary legislative procedure [see section 4.3]. This shift towards ''soft law'' means, first, that unanimity rather than qualified majority is required for taking these measures and, second, that the European Parliament and the European Court of justice are excluded from the conception and the enforcement of these new social measures. The poor member states, which are most in need of a real common social policy, should react to this trend so as to make the institutions respect the letter and spirit of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

    Furthermore, the European Union should promote the principles of the European social model in the rest of the world, which suffers from poverty, inequalities and exploitation. It is important that the respect of the fundamental human rights, in particular the right to association and collective bargaining as well as the protection against compulsory work and work of children, be enforced at international level in the framework of the United Nations Organisation. The EU could and should contribute to the globalisation of solidarity and respect of human rights in the world.

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