EP EMPL MEPs discuss on a social dimension in the European Semester

On September 3, the European Parliament's Employment Committee deliberated on the European Semester. 

By Hendrik Meerkamp

04 Sep 2014

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.


On September 3, the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs met for a deliberation on a draft opinion on an own-initiative report  on 'European Semester for economic policy coordination: Implementation of 2014 priorities'. Please find a summary of the debate below.

Draftsperson Sergio Gutiérrez Prieto (S&D, ES) began by recalling that so far only a limited dialogue has taken place with his colleagues in the committee so that this consideration of his text is of great importance to him.

He then reminded the committee members that the file aims to influence the implementation of the European Semester [in the process of which the European Parliament has no legal, binding involvement], which should be changed, in his view, in many respects. In this context, he declared, the European Semester needs to be strengthened especially in substance with regards to social affairs and in procedures with regards to democracy and a boosted involvement of the European Parliament.

Mr Gutiérrez Prieto then briefly outlined the substance of his draft opinion, saying that it first evaluates the current economic and social situation in the EU – which is, according to him, despite some modest improvements, still bad in a number of respects pertaining to, e.g. salary levels, long-term unemployment rates especially among the young, and poverty levels – and then comes to the conclusion that “we need to move beyond excessive austerity” and that extended flexibility margins are required in public budgets to boost job creation and better conditions for the people.

He elaborated further that in this context, his draft opinion, most notably:

  • includes a request for social indicators to be made binding and be put on an equal footing with the macroeconomic indicators in the European Semester process (paragraph 5);
  • makes provisions aimed to put job creation at the heart of all policies, with a flagship initiative being that each Commissioner draws up a quality employment plan for their specific policy area, including concrete measures, a budget allocation and a calendar for its implementation (paragraph 9);
  • calls to step up funding for the Youth Guarantee and to have this accompanied by an adequate quality framework for traineeships and apprenticeships;
  • aims to strengthen the EU industry (paragraph 14) and combat social dumping and labour poverty (e.g. paragraph 4).

Verónica Lope Fontagné (EPP, ES) said that she is in favour of many of the points made in the draft opinion – in particular on many of the references on poverty and social exclusion (paragraphs 25-33) – and expressed her confidence that an agreement with broad support can be found in the committee on a final opinion.

However, she also raised concerns about a number of points made in Mr Gutiérrez Prieto’s text. In this context, she noted particular:

  • references made to austerity, saying that it must be made clear that austerity is not a goal in itself but a means to an end;
  • points made on the Youth Guarantee in paragraph 21, expressing doubts that calling for an increase in funding of the Youth Guarantee to ‘at least the sum of EUR 21 billion’ might not be feasible;
  • the position taken in paragraph 9 that ‘each Commissioner should draw up a quality employment plan for their specific policy area, including … a budget allocation … for its implementation’, arguing that it might be difficult for the Commissioners to put such budget aside;
  • calls made in paragraph 4 for ‘a true social pillar to be implemented within economic and monetary union (EMU) as part of the process of improving economic governance mechanisms, so as to reduce unemployment, poverty and social exclusion, overcome social dumping and prevent competition for the lowest social standards in the EU’, saying that this might be too ambitious and not feasible to achieve. She concluded that the committee should consider to “tune down the enthusiasm” on this point;
  • references made in paragraph 13 that productive investments, for instance in education or research and development, should be excluded from the deficit targets established under EU and national rules, underlining that she cannot accept such a watering down of the deficit targets – especially if there would be binding social indicators on an equal footing with macroeconomic indicators in matters of the European Semester’s country-specific recommendations, as requested in paragraph 5.

Ms. Lope Fontagné concluded by asking Mr Gutiérrez Prieto to clarify what he refers to when writing about ‘a better legal framework for cross-border movement of workers’ in paragraph 19.

Martina Dlabajová (ALDE, CZ) stressed that the newly introduced social scoreboard for the country-specific recommendations is useful but that making them binding might not be beneficial.

She also highlighted that the opinion must make clear that a focus must be put on the need for workforce training and skills development, for job matching, and for assisting SMEs to prosper. She added that this would help young people much better to find jobs than making policies on binding guarantees.

Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, UK) said that there is “a lot to be welcomed” in the draft opinion, in particular with regards to the paragraphs that:

  • call to put social indicators on an equal footing with macroeconomic indicators in the European Semester procedure (paragraph 5);
  • remind of the importance to not lose sight of achieving the goals set out in the Europe 2020 strategy (paragraph 3);
  • urge to strengthen EU industry (paragraph 14);
  • criticise that ‘not all the Member States have involved both their national parliament and their national social partners in the drafting of their national reform programmes (NRPs)’ under the European Semester procedure; and
  • call on the European Commission to ‘give tangible form to the promised EUR 300 billion investment plan’ (as recently promised by the Commission President-designate Juncker; paragraph 12).

Ms. Lambert concluded by welcoming that the draft opinion calls for more affordable housing (paragraph 27) but stressed that the text might go further in this regard.

Rina Ronja Kari (GUE/NGL, DK) said that individual Member States should be given greater margins to invest in education and welfare in order to tackle high poverty levels and create better living conditions.

Anthea McIntyre (ECR, UK) said that most committee members probably agree on what is to be achieved but that there are different perceptions across the political groups and members about how proceed.

In this context, she raised concerns in particular about a possible introduction of binding additional measures within the EMU– especially in case these are made binding for non-eurozone countries, too.

Ms. McIntyre also said that it is not “our reports but thriving businesses that create jobs” and that therefore more emphasis should be put on enabling businesses to prosper.

However, she welcomed other parts of the opinion – in particular paragraph 15 which includes a reference to involuntary part-time work. She explained that differentiating between voluntary and involuntary part-time work, as the text does, is crucial because unlike involuntary part-time work, voluntary part-time work does in fact not represent a negative feature of labour markets but a good instrument especially for young mothers to find a way back into employment.


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