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Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs

Social and employment policy
Legal Basis
Objectives
Policy instruments
Health

Legal Basis
Objectives
Policy instruments
Consumer protection

Legal Basis
Objectives
Policy instruments

SOCIAL AND EMPLOYMENT POLICY

The Community's main objectives, which ensured the economic and social progress as well as promoted high-level employment and social protection, were set by the Treaty of Rome (1957). The regulating action limits were initially restricted since the respective provisions essentially concerned the free movement and residence of workers in the context of the common market.

However, the Community began to play an increasingly more important role in matters of social and employment policy. Since the mid-1970s, the Community's action has in fact been expedited, resulting to the adoption of directives regarding equality between men and women in the labour market, as well as in certain industrial relations matters.

The Single European Act (July 1987) gave particular impetus to social policy and especially to the areas of health and safety at work, the dialogue with the social partners and economic and social cohesion. At the Strasbourg European Council (December 1989), the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers was approved by the Heads of States and Governments (only the United Kingdom opted out).

The prospect of setting up a single internal market (1 January 1993) highlights the need for adopting new social rules. The Maastricht Treaty, with the adoption of the Protocol which includes the Agreement among all Member States on social policy from which the United Kingdom opted out, gives new impetus to the production of legislative procedures in the field of social and employment policy. Since the presentation of the White Paper by the Community in 1993, employment issues have carried greater weight in the European agenda.

The Amsterdam Treaty marks an important step forward in the development of social policy. On the one hand, the recognition of the social partners' fundamental role is confirmed and the political volition to enhance cooperation in the field of social policy is declared. On the other hand, the period of the British opting out on social policy of the Maastricht Agreement is terminated. Furthermore, a special chapter on employment is added in the Treaty.

Legal Basis

The Articles on social policy, as they were set in the Agreement/ Social Protocol of the Maastricht Treaty, remain immutable. The Member States' will to proceed to important actions, in order to promote the field in question, is established in the Protocol on social policy. The Member States are authorized to have recourse to the institutions, the procedures and the mechanisms of the Treaty for the purposes of taking among themselves and implementing, as far as they are concerned, the acts and decisions required for giving effect to the above mentioned Agreement.

However, it was not satisfactory to have two legal bases for social policy. The Amsterdam Treaty restored the single legal basis of the Community, by incorporating into the EC Treaty the above-mentioned Agreement (chapter 1 of the Title XI, new Articles 136 to 145).

The general objectives are exhaustively mentioned in Article 136 of the EU Treaty. Article 136 (formerly Article 117) is a reminder that social policy falls under the joint responsibility of the European Community and the Member States.

The promotion of the direct implementation of employment -new Title VIII on employment (new Articles 125-130) - following the decision of the Amsterdam European Council, and the promotion of equality for men and women were set as Community objectives. (Article 2 of the EC Treaty).
However, remuneration, the right of association, the right to strike and the right to impose lockouts are still excluded from Community competence (Article 137 par. 6)

The new Article 13 of the EC Treaty refers to the elimination of discrimination. In addition, the new Article 141 provides for the equal treatment of men and women, whereas the old Article 119 was confined to issues of equal remuneration for both sexes occupying similar working positions.

Objectives

The EU objectives, in the field of social policy, cover the promotion of employment, improvement of living and working conditions, proper social protection, social dialogue, development of human resources which will allow for a high and retainable employment level as well as fight any form of exclusion. Thanks to the Amsterdam Treaty, the achievement of high-level employment was added to these goals without, however, weakening the competition.

The objective of a more competitive and dynamically knowledge-based European economy in the world was adopted by the Lisbon European Council (March 2000). More specifically, an important action framework was adopted for maintaining economic growth, the creation of more and better working positions and for a European society with a higher standard of social cohesion. Special attention was drawn to the fight against poverty and social exclusion, as well as to the safeguarding of viable pension schemes. Within this framework, a series of medium-term objectives was set, aiming at full-time employment and the modernization of social protection systems.

The promotion of all the components of the so-called Lisbon process- economy, employment, social cohesion, knowledge-based society, sustainable development- should be considered until 2010 a priority in order to create a European competitive economy.

At the Nice European Council (December 2000), certain goals were set regarding the fight against poverty and social exclusion. The political priority of dealing with these phenomena was confirmed at the Barcelona European Council (March 2002).

In the near future, the two keystones to which special attention must be given are the following: on the one hand, the promotion of employment and modernisation of work organization, and on the other hand, the modernisation of social protection and the fight against social exclusion. Within this framework, initiatives are expected to be taken shortly by the EU in order to define the next steps.

Policy instruments

Article 137 (previous Article 118) provides that the Community may perform social action, by setting down directives adopted by special majority, in the fields of workers' health and safety, the working conditions, the integration of those excluded from the labour market, the information and consultation of workers and the equality for men and women. Under the same procedure, measures may be adopted to encourage action taken by the Member States in order to fight against social exclusion. Article 141 provides for the adoption of measures, once more by a special majority, for equal treatment between the sexes in the labour market.

The sectors of the employees' health and security in their working environment, as well as the elimination of discrimination in the labour market have presented an important legislative activity on the part of the EU, especially in recent years.

However, as regards industrial relation matters, the relevant legislation is limited, besides the important progress marked in special matters regarding the collective rights of workers (such as information and consultation of workers at the enterprises, protection of the rights of workers, within the framework of restructuring the enterprises, etc). Another keystone of Community action concerns the individual rights of workers.

As regards matters of personal data protection in the working environment, the Commission has organized since 2001, consultations with the social partners within the framework of the social agenda, aiming at defining the potential of future Community actions.

In order to meet the objective of high-level employment, the European Employment Strategy was developed (Luxemburg process). The common guidelines of the European Employment Strategy are summed up in four basic pillars, that is:

- Improvement of employability
- Development of entrepreneurship
- Strengthening of enterprises and workers' adaptability
- Strengthening of the measures regarding equality for both sexes

The Luxemburg process uses the open coordination method, in order to implement the employment strategy. According to this method, the goals -in the form of guidelines- are set in on a Community level, while the policy regarding the achievement of these objectives is formed on a national level. The Member States' policies are presented before the Commission in the form of annual national action plans for employment (NAPs). Based on these plans, the Commission draws up a common report plan for the Commission and the Council, which is submitted to the European Council. This common report forms the basis for the realisation of the Commission's recommendations to the Member States.

It was decided that the Spring Summits of the European Council should be focused on development and employment matters. This decision was made in Lisbon.

The open coordination method, which comprises the report between opposite numbers (pier review), the limitation of relatively better practices-performances and the development of quantum indexes, has been expanded in other areas as well, following the Lisbon European Council.

At the Nice European Council, the social policy agenda, which defines the EU social action priorities until 2005 regarding six strategic orientations, was approved. Based on the Commission and the Council reports as well as on a regularly informed progress control panel, the European Council examines every year the implementation of its agenda during its Spring Summit.

Within the framework of the European policy against social exclusion and any form of discrimination, the European Council has set common objectives and invited the Member States to develop their policies and submit two-year national action programmes on social integration. The progress of the above mentioned programmes is estimated with the help of specific quantum indexes.

At the Spring European Summit, in 2003, the total report of the agenda proceedings will take place in order to promote the necessary adjustments, taking into consideration the fact of the constantly changeable economic and social environment.

HEALTH

Community action is directed towards improving public health, preventing human illness and diseases, and obviating sources of danger to human health. The EU supports the Member States' initiative regarding the promotion of research, information and education on health issues.

European public health services deal with various common challenges related to demographic progress (ageing of population), technological development, progress of processing methods and improvement of the citizens' quality of life and educational level. These trends lay significant requirements on health services issues rendering more intense the need for resolving them.

Although health issues have been featured in the Treaties since the beginning of the European construction, it is only since the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty that the Community has been able to implement a genuine public health strategy. Following the Amsterdam Treaty, cooperation between the Member States has been extended to all sources of danger to human health and Community measures have been applied in various areas, such as cancer, drug addiction, doping, infectious diseases etc.

Legal basis

Before the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, Article 129, par. 1c stipulated that health protection requirements should form a constituent part of other Community policies (such as the single market, consumer protection, social protection, employment and the environment). After amendments, Articles 3 and 152 of the EC Treaty laid down important changes to the Amsterdam Treaty. These Articles require the drawing up of a new strategy. More specifically, Article 152 lays greater emphasis on the impact of Community policies on health and widens the scope of Community action, by stressing that a high level of human health protection must be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Community policies and activities.

Objectives

The Community's general objectives are directed towards improving public health, preventing illnesses and diseases and encountering conditions that are dangerous to human health.

Within the framework of a general initiative for the modernization of social protection, the leaders of the Member States and governments have decided to promote cooperation in the field of health, with a view to ensuring high quality and economically viable health services.

The achievement of the EU objectives in matters of health is accomplished by the exchange of experience and data, by research, analysis and production of legislative work.

More precisely, the objectives involve the following:
- Promotion of a healthier way of life.
- Prevention and combating of contagious diseases like the HIV/AIDS.
- Promotion of the general public health regarding illnesses related to infections, accidents, rare diseases, doping, electromagnetic fields, radiation therapies etc.
- Monitoring and analysing of the progress in the sector of health in the EU Member States, while supporting the drawing up and implementing of health policies, not only in the Member States, but also at a European level.
- Ensuring the economic viability and quality of medical care services for the elderly.
- Ensuring the observance of the health policy's main principles (security, quality etc.) when implementing other European policies.
The Barcelona Council set three priorities -improvement of access to medical care, service quality and the economic viability of the health systems- on the basis of which a relevant report will be presented at the spring meeting of the European Council in 2003.

Policy instruments

As regards the field of public health, the adoption of binding rules on a European level is very restricted. The Council may adopt recommendations toward the Member States for the implementation of public health initiatives and may also make use of other not legally binding acts (incentive measures, conclusions etc.). The Council acts by a special majority to reach decisions on proposals presented by the Commission regarding health issues.

An important measure taken by the Barcelona European Council (March 2002) was the adoption of the European Health Insurance Card. This card will replace today's medical care forms necessary when staying at any other Member State and will, therefore, simplify procedures without bringing about changes to the existing rights and obligations.

Nowadays, national authorities cooperate on the approval and control of medical products. This cooperation has two main objectives, the promotion of public access to new, effective medicinal products and the impetus of the competitiveness of the European pharmaceutical industry, thus facilitating the commercial activity within the internal market.

As to medicinal equipment, the European legislation is subject to review. For the fields related to the internal market, such as medicinal products, medical equipment, and the field of tobacco industry among others, regulating rules may be adopted.

Eight European action programmes currently exist in the field of public health. These programmes promote information for the public and the exchange of knowledge and experience between experts, public authorities and associations on a European level. The EU contributes by offering financial assistance for the elaboration of research programmes, the realisation of information campaigns and the promotion of activities through the Internet. On May 2000, the Commission proposed a new, integrated action programme for the period 2001-2006.

Apart from matters concerning the promotion of health and the prevention of illnesses, cooperation has also been promoted within the framework of the open coordination method covering, in a broad sense, the social health field (comprising the issue of economic viability and the quality of public medical care services for the elderly).

Open coordination does not allow the formation of rules and the promotion of harmonisation methods. However, it targets at the development and diffusion of good practices. It encourages the Member States to aim at attaining better performances through common targets, quantitative indicators, experience exchange, consistent monitoring etc.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

Political action for the promotion of a consumer policy on a European level first emerged in the beginning of the 1970s. The basic rights as to consumer protection may be divided into the following categories: the right to protection of health and safety, the right to protection of economic interests, the right to damages, the right to information and education and the right to representation.

However, substantial progress in the consumer protection policy is ascertained by the single market's prospect and the increase of cross-border trade. An official report on consumer protection matters was made for the first time at the Single European Act. The Maastricht Treaty enshrines consumer protection as a fully-fledged Community policy, while the Amsterdam Treaty, without altering this approach, gives new impetus to consumer policy.

Legal basis

Article 100A (SEA) provides the foundation for legal recognition of consumer policy and entitles the Commission to propose measures designed to protect consumers. The general principles of the Maastricht Treaty state that the Community must contribute to the strengthening of consumer protection. Article 129A of the Amsterdam Treaty (Article 153 after renumbering) has become the indispensable legal framework allowing the implementation of the policy on consumer protection.

Article 3 EC Treaty states that the role of the EU is to strengthen consumer protection and stresses that the financial interests of consumers should be taken into account when drawing up and implementing other Community policies.

Objectives

Consumer protection policy is targeted at creating a framework for consumer rights in the internal market of the EU, not only in the Member State which they belong to.

The EU aims at protecting the health, safety, financial and legal interests of consumers, promoting their right to information and education, as well as organizing associations in order to safeguard their financial and other interests. In addition, it aims at coordinating consumer and economic policy stressing particularly the policy on the functioning of the internal market.

The Luxemburg European Council stressed that the production and supply of safe products must be one of the European Union's policy priorities.
Within this framework, the 1999-2001 action plan for consumer policy has been adopted, with three major fields of activity:

  1. Consumer representation and education, entailing more systematic consultation, more effective dialogue between consumer associations and between consumers and enterprises with the appropriate information campaigns, expansion of the Euroguichets, and the strengthening of the cooperation with the Member States as regards consumer education.
  2. Consumer health and safety, based on the best possible scientific evidence and on consistent analysis of risks, with legislation being adapted in such a way as to guarantee safer products and services, as well as more effective response to emergencies.
  3. The financial interests of consumers, with steps being taken to ensure that the existing legislation is properly applied and is in tune with the development of products and services, as well as with consumers' financial interests which have been taken into account in other Community policies, such as telecommunications, transport or the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Policy instruments

Matters related to consumer protection are traditionally within the competence of the Member States. This explains why prescriptive rules and practices differ between the Member States.

Initially the Community legislated in the field of cosmetics safety, food labelling, misleading advertising and doorstep selling.

The Maastricht Treaty led to a new momentum as reflected in several 'Green Papers' (financial services, consumer access to justice, food law, sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees), as well as to legislative initiatives concerning injunctions, contracts negotiated at distance, comparative advertising and cross-border money transfers.

Regulations are the most important and effective policy instrument in the field of consumer protection. These are, often, directives of small range and the Member States may retain more severe or protective national rules as regards this field. The prescriptive policy on this field is specific and thematically restricted, whereas the more general rules or specifications have not yet been adopted.

Following the Amsterdam Treaty, the Commission drew up an action programme on consumer policy that singles out matters of general interest, which are being under discussion within a special schedule. The Commission's White Paper (February 2000) set out the plans for a Community policy on food safety. The European Council agreed that the relevant tasks to the White Paper must be accomplished by the end of 2002.


Read also

Communication from the Commission on streamlining the annual economic and employment policy co-ordination cycles

Communication from the Commission concerning the introduction of a European health insurance card

Communication from the Commission : Scoreboard on implementing the Social Policy Agenda

A new Community strategy on health and safety at work

Council Resolution Consumer Policy Strategy 2002-2006

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