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Speech by Minister Cotman to the EP Committee for Employment and Social Affairs at the conclusion of the Slovenian Presidency


Mr President, Distinguished Members of the Committee,

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today. It seems like only yesterday that I was here. These six months have passed so quickly! It is only appropriate that we now take a look at the road we travelled in the area of employment and social affairs. I am using this opportunity to thank you, Mr President and Committee members, for your constructive cooperation, your visits to Slovenia, your attendance at our Presidency events and in particular for your hard work in the legislative field.

The Presidency's motto concerning employment and social affairs was "A Europe that invests in people is building its future". We are convinced that Europe needs people. And prudent decisions as well. Europe needs high labour law standards, effective social protection systems, fruitful social dialogue and dialogue with civil society.

We started our Presidency with the following idea: If we wish to work for the future, we have to invest in people and their potential as well as in the systems and structures by which Europe will continue to be the best place in the world to live and work.

I believe that the Slovenian Presidency has followed that guideline. Apart from progress in the legislative field, which will be discussed later, three important topics were addressed within the framework of different events and activities: 1) flexicurity and employment of young people, 2) facing demographic challenges, and 3) ensuring equal opportunity for all.

1. The European debate on flexicurity was the theme of an informal meeting of ministers of employment and social policy held in January in Slovenia.  The ministers agreed that flexicurity was an appropriate approach to facing the challenges of the 21st century, such as demographic change, accelerated technological advancement and globalisation. This, however, requires a comprehensive strategy of coordinated policies and measures, taking into account the historical, social and economic conditions of individual Member States on the one hand, and the characteristics, limitations and advantages of certain population groups on the other. Social partners play an important role in the implementation of measures at the national level, and therefore must be included in the process of drawing up these measures. The onus is therefore on the Member States. At the European level, we should facilitate the exchange of information on good practices.

I am pleased that a few months ago Commissioner Špidla set up the Mission for Flexicurity, which has already been visiting individual Member States. We will probably hear more about the results of this mission in the second half of this year.

We have also managed to strengthen the role of flexicurity in the revised Lisbon Strategy, particularly as regards employment guidelines. I am glad that in the first half of this year the Council and the Parliament managed to elaborate in constructive dialogue all the platforms for a new cycle of the Lisbon Strategy, in which not only flexicurity but also the social dimension will be enhanced and demographic challenges taken into account.

Already at the informal ministerial meeting, we identified three population groups (youth, the elderly and women) which are disadvantaged in comparison with the overall population and therefore deserve special attention.

The situation of young people in Europe raises special concern. Searching for a way to improve their situation was central to the endeavours of the Slovenian Presidency.  Young people need an environment in which they will quickly find a path to move from education to decent employment, a path which will enable them to lead an independent and high-quality life. Young people require conditions in which they can freely decide to start a family and reconcile their professional, family and private lives more easily. Young people are the most flexible group in the labour market. However, we should keep in mind that young people today also need security and stability in order to make full use of their potentials and contribute to social development.

2. The Slovenian Presidency made efforts to contribute its share to the European debate on demographic challenges. We also focused on intergenerational solidarity as a precondition for the sustainable development of the entire society.  We organised the conference "Intergenerational Solidarity for Cohesive and Sustainable Societies", the basic purpose of which was to define new relationships between generations and find new approaches and policies that encourage intergenerational solidarity for cohesive and sustainable societies.

Solidarity is a common European value and an integral part of all European social security systems. Solidarity should not be understood in merely financial terms. Equal importance should be attributed to cooperation, understanding and coexistence between generations, since all three generations constitute a single family and a municipal, national, European and global community. Within this, each generation is equally needed and precious.

3. Ensuring equal opportunity for all is probably the most long-term objective of the European Union. Poverty and social exclusion are on the increase, and the uncertainties of daily life associated with the challenges of the 21st century are intensifying. The European Union indeed does have mechanisms in place, such as anti-discrimination legislation, the Lisbon Strategy and the open method of coordination, structural and cohesion funds, and soon it will also have a revised social agenda; however, the existing mechanisms are not fully utilised. Therefore, their implementation should be improved in close cooperation with the social partners and civil society, and synergy between these mechanisms sought. But, above all, we should be aware that social goals cannot be attained without including the social dimension in all EU policies, since the sustainable development of a society is not possible without balanced economic, environmental and social dimensions.

In the area of equal opportunity, the Slovenian Presidency focused on individual target groups requiring special attention. These are, in particular, young people (whom I have already mentioned), women and persons with disabilities.  Various activities of the Presidency were aimed at ensuring equal opportunity and preventing discrimination against persons with disabilities. We believe that prompt ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted in 2006 and of the Optional Protocol, along with their consistent implementation, would significantly improve the status of the disabled in Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the legislative area, the Presidency strove for maximum progress in acts under way.

I am pleased that in the past weeks we managed to make a breakthrough with the Council and that an agreement was reached on two Directives which are of key importance to European workers, since they govern the area of working time and the rights of temporary agency workers.  The Directive on Temporary Agency Workers ensures that workers employed through agencies enjoy rights equal to those of other employees from the first day of their employment; exemptions are only permitted if the social partners come to an agreement nationally. The Directive on Working Time limits exemptions concerning the organisation of working time, strengthens the security of workers and allows working hours to be adjusted to the needs of the working process in agreement with social partners, and at the same time contributes to easier reconciliation of family, professional and personal life.

During the Presidency, a great deal of time was devoted to the regulations regarding coordination of social security systems. Within the Council, we managed to adopt a general approach to the missing Annexes to the basic Regulation. We also agreed on the content of the chapter of the implementing Regulation governing the reimbursement of excess benefits and contributions. The chapter on accidents at work and occupational diseases has been reopened. We have actively cooperated with you who are just about to complete the first reading of the regulations. The objective of our intense efforts for final adoption of the regulations even before the term of your office expires next year is clear: prompt implementation of simplified and modernised procedures for effective use of various social security systems for migrant workers.

Among the achievements in the legislative area, I should also mention the proposal of the Decision on the European Year of the Fight against Poverty and Social Exclusion 2010 which was approved by the Parliament last week. I am convinced that the activities in 2010 will make a significant contribution to the improvement of the situation of the most vulnerable population groups and individuals in the European Union. I hope that this year we will manage to involve all relevant actors, raise awareness and take an important step towards the eradication of poverty and social exclusion in Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you can see, the Slovenian Presidency advocated a Europe where each person will be able to live a worthwhile life. I am deeply convinced that social policy must originate from basic social and economic rights at the European as well as national level, and from the concept of social policy as a production factor.

The Old Continent needs people in order to survive. The European Union needs the trust of people if it is to undergo further development and maintain its position in the global arena. In creating any policy at European and national levels, we should keep in mind that individuals can believe in a shared European future only if enabled to exercise the right to a decent and high-quality life.

These, in brief, are the key issues that merited the particular attention of the Slovenian Presidency. Before listening to your comments and questions, I would like to point out again that I highly appreciate such dialogue. Mr President, let me thank you and the Committee once again for your constructive cooperation in the past months. Together we have managed to show considerable wisdom and courage, and I believe we shall continue to do so in the future.

Thank you for your attention and thank you, Mr President, for giving me the floor.


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Date: 24.06.2008