Social protection Newsletter No.12 - ETUC

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Social protection Newsletter No.12 - ETUC

January 2008

Social protection Newsletter No. 12

First of all, a very Happy New Year to you all!

This 12 th Newsletter reports on the major activities which have characterised

ETUC's 'Social Protection’ sector in the course of 2007, around four main

themes which form its structure:

- The internal activity and the meetings of the Social Protection Working

Group (1),

- Pensions (2),

- Demographic trends and their effects on the labour market and in the

field of social protection (3),

- Social inclusion (4).

Finally, we also take a quick look at some rulings handed down by the

European Court of Justice with a bearing on social protection (5).

1. The meetings of ETUC’s Social Protection

Working Group

The working group met twice in 2007, on 29 January and 26 November 2007.

1.1 Report on the meeting of the Social Protection Working

Group on 29 January 2007

Analysis of the replies received with regard to the consultation on

social services of general interest

At the request of Jozef NIEMIEC, Henri LOURDELLE gave a summary of the

replies received by the ETUC regarding SSGI.

He began by thanking the organisations which had replied (10 countries,

including 15 Confederations and one Professional Federation).

Among the replies submitted, 3 countries/organisations said that they had not

been consulted by their governments, and one organisation indicated that it

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was refusing to respond to the questionnaire from the Commission because it

disagreed with the assumptions made by the questionnaire.

In general, the replies received referred to those already framed during

the first round of consultation, while often providing clarifications or

confirming prior stances adopted, even though:

Two organisations opposed any form of harmonisation of SSGI (and thus any

European initiative in that area?) at European level, for the sake of the

principle of subsidiarity. Others, however, took the view that the principle of

subsidiarity was not enough to safeguard this type of services …

Practically all the replies agreed, however, that SSGI must not be made

subject to the laws of the market, and regretted that in its approach, the

Commission concentrated, for example, too much on the rules of the market

and of competition.

Concern was also felt by a number of parties at the Commission’s approach

from the point of view of ‘modernisation’, and these parties called for this

notion to be ‘clarified’ and in any event, demanded that the ‘externalisation’ of

these services should not be the response to the ‘modernisation’ of these

services.

A number of organisations were united in regretting the overly restrictive

definition by the Commission with regard to SSGI, which would answer only

individual needs and be addressed only to people, without taking into account

the response to more collective needs, such as the organisation of services

for young children or for the elderly – but one organisation did, none the less,

consider that social services needed to be directed towards people in

difficulties.

Most of the organisations which had replied supported the opinion already

issued by the ETUC (Resolution by the Executive Committee last October)

and in particular with regard to its prerequisite of a framework directive to

define a minimum of rules requiring to be complied with by all SGI (such as

the demand for quality, their accessibility, their ‘affordability’, solidarity, etc),

and one organisation took the view that for SSGI and healthcare, the OMC

was enough …

One country stated that it did not object to a European directive, but it did

want a prior in-depth study of the rulings by the ECJ to be undertaken to

assess all the consequences.

Some parties regretted the establishment of a different approach and the

uncoupling of SSGI and health services.

Finally, whatever their approach with regard to a European tool, practically all

the replies

– refused to put social security and SSGI on the same footing, because

they did not start from the same place and particularly not the Internal

Market!

– insisted that SSGI be granted a specific place in the European social

model and participate in the implementation of the fundamental

social rights.

All the participants backed this presentation, which called for no particular

observations.

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Discussion of the draft ETUC reply to the consultation launched by the

Commission on health services

First of all, by way of an introduction to the debate, Jozef NIEMIEC gave the

floor to Rita BAETEN from the European Social Observatory, to present the

results of a European study that she had conducted with regard to the

mobility of patients and which had covered 14 countries (Ireland, the United

Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands,

Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Spain, Malta, Germany and

France).

What did this study reveal?

1) As to the typology of patients going abroad for medical care and their

motivations:

- Firstly, there were some who were already abroad when they needed

care, either because they were travelling or on holiday, or else

because they had dual residency, or perhaps because they lived there

permanently – basically this was the case for retired people ...

- There were also some people travelling abroad for medical care

because it was close at hand for them (notably in border regions) and

for reasons relating to language or culture or a familiarity with the

system, etc. But the reasons might equally lie in the ‘weaknesses’ of

the national system (quality, cost, accessibility, etc), or then again,

patients might perhaps travel for reasons associated with the

legislation on bioethics (medically assisted reproduction, abortion, etc)

2) As to the payment for care dispensed abroad:

Three types of provisions existed:

- The old Regulation 1408/71, which had now become Regulation

883/2004

- The agreements between institutions (agreements between crossborder

hospitals to exchange patients depending on certain

pathologies, for example)

- Or perhaps European case law, in the case of outpatient care and the

associated services (cf. the famous Kohl and Decker rulings).

3) As to the real or alleged extension of mobility in the case of patients:

In point of fact, this mobility remained marginal:

- It was mainly concentrated in certain regions (border or tourist regions)

- Limited to care providers which had specific development strategies

- Or for very specific types of care.

But it could have a significant impact.

4) As to the expectations of the players:

- For all: greater legal security

- For patients: clarity and transparency, information, continuity of care,

etc

- For the ‘suppliers’: a proper price, good information on waiting lists, etc

- For the institutions: transparency in the establishment of rates and

costs, guarantees with regard to the care provided.

5) As to the impact on the health systems themselves:

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Not only were patients travelling, but this also meant an interaction between

the health systems:

- For the sake of better, quicker access to care

- For the sake of improvements to the national system (pressure)

- For more explicit procedures, more particularly on eligibility criteria

- For lower costs, with regard both to investments and the prices

charged

6) What were the conclusions?

It was better to secure agreements between institutions – which offered

greater guarantees for suppliers and purchasers, but which could have

negative effects in the host countries – than to leave the patient to make

individual use of the facility offered him by European case law (the Kohl and

Decker rulings, for instance) to go and look himself for the care he wanted to

receive abroad; because in that case, the patient remained in a vulnerable

position and his options remained limited.

But it was important, also, to pay attention in the case of agreements between

institutions, or between care suppliers, to the ‘selection of the risks’!

7) What political recommendations?

Establishing a framework at European level:

- Involving the public authorities in the member countries concerned by

these departures of national patients or these arrivals of foreign

patients;

- Requiring management;

- Likewise calling for transparency;

- With the establishment of rates and quality standards in the State

where the care was provided;

- Including the ‘suppliers’ in the public healthcare systems;

- With flat-rate provisions in the Member States providing the care;

- With control and evaluation procedures.

In the discussion following this presentation, the participants addressed three

main points:

- The potential repercussions on healthcare staff;

- The risk in some countries (such as the Netherlands) of a shortfall of

investments in quality, because there was less pressure from patients;

- In some countries (such as Belgium), campaigns were being

conducted to reduce capacities.

In response, Rita BAETEN explained:

- With regard to the repercussions on staff, in Spain and in Italy, for

example, financing was based on the number of ‘national’ patients, not

on the foreign patients, and there was no benefit for care providers in

filling in an E 111 form! In Belgium, doctors could get higher salaries

but not extra staff! So it was important to strike a balance between the

fixed costs and the additional costs generated by foreign patients.

- Where patients travelled abroad, the public authorities considered that

this was a bad sign. Moreover, there existed a large number of crossborder

contracts between Belgium and the Netherlands.

- Some Member States were seeking to fill up their excess capacity by

welcoming patients from abroad.

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Jozef NIEMIEC then introduced the discussion on the draft ETUC reply to the

Commission consultation, recalling first of all the context and the approach

followed.

Following the exclusion, thanks in particular to the mobilisation of the ETUC

and its members, in the framework of the debate on the Services directive

(the so-called ‘Bolkestein directive’) of SSGI and health services, and with the

ETUC being in favour of a framework directive covering both SSGI and health

services, the Commission was giving priority to the approach involving

sectoral directives. The European Parliament, for its part, was considering

how to take account of this exclusion. But it seemed rather to be moving

towards a sectoral directive for health services (Vergniaud report).

This was the background against which the draft ETUC reply was put up for

discussion.

In the discussion that followed, several opinions were voiced, generally

supporting and clarifying the ETUC position in its reply (but with a more

restrictive approach from the DGB, which wanted to limit the European action

in this field just to the problem of the reimbursement of costs for healthcare

dispensed abroad), notably

- by indicating that account needed to be taken of the advice from the

Court of Justice; it was not for it to define the Union’s policy vis-à-vis

healthcare, the Union needed to empower itself;

- to work out a political line while taking account of the provisions in the

Treaty. Accordingly, it was proposed to reinforce the introduction of the

ETUC document by insisting on the social dimension of our approach,

and not referring simply to the ‘market’. In addition, account likewise

needed to be taken of the rights of patients and the ‘bearable’ costs;

- by insisting on the effects on staff, in particular with regard to the

linguistic and cultural differences, etc;

- by reinforcing the partnerships in the framework of the OMC;

- by raising the question of ‘responsibility’ in the event of healthcare

abroad.

A number of people also suggested rewording certain paragraphs (3, 5, 6, 7,

etc).

In his reply, Jozef NIEMIEC noted that there were no divergences on the

general line proposed by the ETUC, the only minor differences relating

essentially to the concerns expressed with regard to the potential

consequences which might arise.

He confirmed that he agreed to the rewording of the paragraphs which had

been flagged.

He shared the concern not to call into question the national legislations, and

therefore wondered whether the existing safeguards were adequate?

Finally, he explained that this was a preliminary position and that it needed to

be tuned to the one we had already issued on the Services directive

(timeliness of a framework directive covering both, followed, as appropriate,

by specific directives).

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Draft directive on the portability of complementary pension rights

In his introduction, Jozef NIEMIEC explained that this was an information

point and that with just a few weeks to go before the ETUC Congress, which

would be addressing these questions in its Resolution, he had no intention of

getting involved in another substantive discussion on the subject.

He likewise reported that the ETUC was going to have a meeting with the

Rapporteure on 1 February.

He then asked Henri LOURDELLE to report on the latest discussion, held at

the Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee on 24 January

2007.

At this meeting at the Parliament, the Rapporteure had opened by stating that

in her view, the German Presidency was determined to succeed. However, it

seemed that a little more time was still needed in order to reach a

compromise, for there would be no point holding a discussion today on

amendments which were not passed at the plenary session.

She felt that there were three points up for debate:

- the transfer (in capital) of rights;

- the acquisition conditions;

- latent rights.

She had also felt that Parliament needed to go further than the proposal by

the Finnish Presidency.

A debate followed this presentation, in the course of which the European

Commission was invited to react. In his speech, the representative from DG

Social Integration and Protection first welcomed the positive indications given

by the Parliament, such as the continuation of the discussions and the

determination to find common ground. The proposals from the Finnish

Presidency were, in his view, a good basis for discussion. It was likewise

important to be aware that not all the elements in the Commission proposal

would be reflected in the final proposal. It was equally important to continue to

explore whether it was not possible to make transfers within the EU. The

Commission was going to continue to look into this question. But it was also

prepared to re-examine the Finnish proposal which could be found on the

Council site. As to the impact study, it clearly showed that this proposal

sought to maintain the existing rights. Finally, the Commission was prepared

to withdraw the transfer question from its proposal, if this proved to be an

insurmountable obstacle!

Responding to the various interventions, the Rapporteure had been taken

aback by the latest Commission proposal, which she had found surprising, for

it was a long way from the starting point, and she had recalled that it was not

for the Commission to say how far it was necessary to go, but for the

legislator.

She likewise recalled that a pension was a deferred salary, as several Court

of Justice rulings had reiterated.

She had agreed that it was important to act both on rights being acquired, and

latent rights.

It was also important to ask: Should capital transfer be eliminated, or should

we see whether the German system, for example, of balance sheet provision,

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was tenable in the long term? The point was that the international accounting

standards indicated that sums invested in companies must be entered in the

accounts (and could not be under-evaluated, either). In other words, workers’

capital must be guaranteed in order to hedge against companies’ insolvency.

A study carried out showed that this would cost 1 billion euro. Was it tenable

for companies, she wondered? This was why she had indicated her

disagreement to the idea that capital transfer would never occur!

As to the acquisition conditions, she felt that these needed to be better

regulated than under the Finnish Presidency.

As to the indexing of capital, she felt that the employer could also be obliged

to compensate for someone who had left to find better deals.

And finally, she explained that her text was due to go before the plenary

committee on 21 March. 1

After this information had been given, a number of speakers came back

- to the complexity of the question of the ‘transferability’ of rights, and

some found it regrettable that this provision should disappear from the

text, as it might, in their view, very well be handled in the framework of

an agreement between the employers and the trade unions in the

company and/or the professional sector and the management bodies;

- to the ‘traineeship’ periods 2 which should not exceed 2 or 3 years at

the most;

- to the handling of the ‘latent rights’ which should be no less well

treated than those of workers remaining in the company. Certain

parties also regretted that the principle of their ‘indexation’ should not

be adopted: it was no more than a question of ‘fair treatment’. But ‘fair’

vis-à-vis what? And whom?

- to the need to reinforce the coordination between the bodies controlling

these schemes.

Summing up on this point, Jozef NIEMIEC took note of these reactions, which

would be reported at the meeting planned with the Rapporteure.

Debate on a European minimum income

What was the approach to the European ‘minimum income’ and/or ‘minimum

wage’ at European level? Jozef NIEMIEC recalled, in his introduction to this

debate, that:

- This was a preliminary exploratory debate within this working group;

- This subject was on the social agenda for 2005-2010;

- It was part of the ongoing Commission consultation on ‘The inclusion

on the labour market of the people furthest from it’, at the end of the

year, with the Commission being due to come back with some

proposals.

He further stated that:

- This issue would be submitted to the Executive Committee in March for

debate, to find out whether it would form a demand in the ETUC

Congress Resolution next May;

1 In fact, it will not go to committee until May

2 Commonly known as ‘vesting periods’

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- It was also under discussion, outside this working group, within the

Social Dialogue Committees and the coordination of collective

bargaining.

He then invited the participants to express the points of view of their

organisations on the subject of the possible introduction of a European

minimum income or minimum wage:

- The DGB, referring to the 1992 Recommendation, preferred the term

‘minimum income’ (a ‘minimum social income’) guaranteed in the

framework of basic social protection, which offered protection against

poverty, taking account of the living standard of the country. But what

defining criteria should be taken when setting the actual amount of

this? The ‘shopping basket’? And would it include leisure activities,

such as the cinema? On the other hand, the DGB felt that with regard

to introduction of a ‘minimum wage’, this was something different, and

this was a matter above all for the social partners.

- Austria had had a new Government for three weeks, and its

programme included ‘minimal protection depending on need, as a

supplement to social allowances’. The ÖGB had already been calling

for this for some time.

- Malta already had the guarantee of a minimum income and a

minimum wage.

- In Cyprus, negotiations were underway between the social partners

with a view to the introduction of a minimum wage. In the case of

‘dependant workers’ paid by the local authorities there was a minimum

income.

- In Belgium there were minimum levels whose development was priceindexed,

but the trade unions had not secured any more than the trend

in inflation. The CSC agreed with the setting of minimum European

incomes, but did wonder if it was really a priority for the ETUC

organisations?

- The United Kingdom had a minimum wage established by consultation

between the government, the employers and the trade unions. In

contrast to what was claimed by those who had opposed its

introduction, this had not had any negative effects on employment.

There was also a minimum income, supplemented by other types of

aid (for housing, health, etc). But supplementary benefits such as

these could also serve as a poverty trap, because when people

receiving these benefits found a new job, they lost their entitlement to

housing credits, for example. When it came to having a European

minimum wage, the TUC had its doubts. Moreover, should we talk

about a ‘European minimum income’ or a ‘European right’ to a

minimum income? Could we go further and set it at 30% of the national

(or regional?) income?

- In Poland, the introduction of a minimum income had been one of the

great battles for Solidarnosc.

- In Bulgaria, there was an ongoing internal debate, but there was not

really any negotiation/consultation between the government and the

social partners (employers and trade unions) to define a ‘minimum

wage’. However, this year had seen for the first time a ‘discussion’

about criteria for the definition of this minimum wage, which might be

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around 180 levas (€ 90). There was a ‘minimum income’ for which the

defining criteria were aleatory and which was set at about 55 levas,

plus extra weightings depending on family composition and state of

health. For the record, the poverty threshold in Bulgaria was …152

levas!

- In Ireland, the debate on the minimum income had been going on for

years, with the basis being calculated on the minimum wage, which

was € 250 per week for 40 hours’ work. Pensions corresponded to

55% of the industrial wage, amounting to € 600 (meaning that a retired

person ended up with 50% of his previous income, which was the case

for 1/3 of them, but they could, however, get additional public benefits,

in the same way as families on low incomes.

- In Portugal, in 2006, overcoming lengthy opposition from the

employers, a minimum wage had been introduced, with the setting of a

medium-term objective (2011). It should rise from € 385 in 2006 to €

450 by 2009 and € 500 by 2011. There was also a ‘minimum insertion

income’ (MII) indexed to the minimum wage. There were minimum

retirement pensions. For Portugal, the ETUC needed to get involved in

the Community discussion both on wages and on the minimum

income, both of which needed to be recognised as a European right!

At the end of this round-table discussion, Jozef NIEMIEC thanked the

participants for their contributions, winding up by saying:

- that certain standards needed to be provided if we were to use the

European instruments;

- and that to avoid ‘social dumping’ we needed to avoid ‘wage dumping’!

1.2. Report on the meeting of the Social Protection Working

Group on 26 November 2007

Healthcare

Jozef NIEMIEC, Confederal Secretary, introduced the debate, which hinged

around

- on the one hand, the Commission’s White Paper on healthcare

- on the other, the draft directive on cross-border healthcare.

Following the mobilisation of the ETUC, in particular, healthcare – like social

services – had been removed, in their turn, from the Services directive (the

so-called ‘Bolkestein directive’).

Since then, there had been ‘legal insecurity’ with regard to them.

The Commission (Commissioner Kyprianou, ‘Consumer health’) had thus

produced a draft directive – which at present was still at the draft stage – but

it was clear in light of what was already known, that the proposal would have

an impact going beyond the simple reimbursement of the healthcare costs

incurred by the patient outside his or her State of origin.

The debate about the proposed directive

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Rita BAETEN of the European Social Observatory (ESO) presented a certain

number of observations and/or debates around what was known about the

proposed directive on cross-border healthcare.

She first recalled the need to have a ‘specific instrument’ with regard to

healthcare. It was important that this ‘instrument’ recognised its specific

nature, but also the specific nature of social services, for many mechanisms

applied to both.

She next flagged a number of problems raised by this proposal:

- that of the imbalance between supply and demand,

- that of information,

- that of public funding,

- that of the disappearance of the prior authorisation for hospital

treatment (this authorisation should remain only the exception!)

which were liable to call into question the social underpinnings and economic

balances in the national healthcare systems.

Another important consideration to be included in the reflection and the

debate was access to healthcare, and thus the universality issue. This was a

fundamental point, one which could be vital on occasion. So this question

could not be boiled down just to the individual relationship between the

patient/consumer and the care provider. If we took into account just one

single element, we would be running the risk of jeopardising the coherence of

the entire system.

The point was that account likewise needed to be taken, in the proposed

directive, as had already been stressed, of the social dimension of healthcare,

which translated into the implementation of mechanisms for solidarity,

universal access, etc.

So it was necessary to obtain legal clarifications, notably with regard to the

general interest, for example.

A balance similarly needed to be struck between on the one hand these

social objectives, and on the other, ‘deregulation’.

The information currently available indicated that the proposed directive

focused on the mobility of patients and the free movement of services:

- freedom for patients travelling to another State providing services;

- freedom for service providers travelling to the patient’s country;

- mobility of services thanks to ‘e-health’;

That being so, some clarifications remained to be secured:

- for example, what were the demands that might be imposed on a

service provider from another Member State?

- was it possible to require a patient to first be referred by a GP before

going to consult a specialist?

- was it possible to impose a reimbursement?

- or to impose compliance with prices abroad or … only to guarantee a

level of reimbursement?

- or how to ensure access to healthcare services for all patients and not

just those who could afford them?

- how to achieve transparency in prices/costs?

- what guarantees for the patient/consumer with regard to aftercare?

- what cross-border transferability (and security) for data concerning

patients?

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- could the foreign service provider choose his or her patients? Or

pathologies?

In the discussion which followed this presentation, the participants

emphasised several points which they felt to be important:

- Addressing the question of healthcare solely from the point of view of

‘free movement’ meant taking a very narrow view of things and looking

at only one aspect…

- The ETUC needed on the one hand to assert and support an essential

basic principle, namely: ‘Everyone must have access to healthcare at

an acceptable price’, and moreover, to develop cross-border regional

cooperation arrangements …

- The question likewise arose of the responsibility of the Member States

with regard to the control and recognition of prescriptions issued in

another Member State. And what would happen if a drug were

prescribed because it was ‘authorised’ in one State and not

‘authorised’ in another?

- Confining the debate simply to the right to mobility in terms of

healthcare might lead the Member States to put off improving (or

carrying out qualitative and quantitative reforms to) their health

systems: mobility might look like a very convenient response in the

case of ‘waiting lists’, for example, rather than investment …

- Attention likewise needed to be paid to the consequences that such a

focus on mobility might have in terms of the organisation, funding and

balance of the national health systems, and more widely on the social

protection systems.

- It was also important to avoid encouraging the emergence (or the

development) of a two-tier society, in particular through access to

highly qualified healthcare for those able to afford it, with the

development likewise of parallel healthcare networks.

As a supplement to this debate on the proposed Directive, several speakers

reacted to the Commission’s White Paper dated 23 October 2007, entitled:

‘Together for Health: A Strategic Approach for the EU 2008-2013’

(COM(2007)630 final).

The speakers were of the view that although the White Paper laid out some

principles and set out some objectives which were most interesting, it

nevertheless had numerous weaknesses with regard to the ‘actions’ to be

undertaken or proposed.

For instance:

- What about the protection of consumers/patients via advertising for

drugs on the Internet?

- Similarly, what about freedom of movement when the Member States

were finding it difficult to meet the expectations of their own nationals

in terms of the quality and accessibility of their national healthcare

systems (cf. Bulgaria, Romania)?

- The White Paper made virtually no mention of ‘prevention’ policy. Yet

this was an essential element in a genuine health policy that could not

be reduced simply to ‘repairing’ or ‘curing’. Moreover, this attention to

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prevention also played out in the workplace, with issues such as the

prevention of accidents or industrial diseases, by acting on working

conditions, health and safety, etc.

- It was important not to confuse ‘freedom of movement’ with ‘health

tourism’, reinforced in particular by the development of complementary

private schemes (in particular allowing those who had enough money

to pay for it to go elsewhere to find what they cannot find in their own

Member State, which did raise questions, as had already been flagged

earlier in terms of a two-tier society and universality of access), but

also by the development of private clinics, sometimes based actually

inside hospital establishments, which all exacerbated the competition

and the selection of the risks and the patients to the detriment of the

social categories and populations most exposed and/or most

vulnerable.

- These texts opened up some dangerous gaps, notably with regard to

the conception of healthcare: the patient was reduced to being a

simple consumer, health to a marketplace, and the service provider to

a supplier choosing its own clients/patients.

- Finally, nothing was said about the question of financing health policy,

which remained too much based upon work and wages, and neither

was any mention made of taxation and how better and fairer taxation

(levying contributions on other sources of income, rather than almost

exclusively on wages) might help to ensure more sustainable, or even

increased, funding.

Winding up this debate, and with a view to the preparation of a policy

document on the strategy to be adopted and the instruments proposed, for

the Executive Committee in March 2008, Jozef NIEMIEC noted that while

there was no opposition to the idea of having a legal instrument at Community

level – a specific directive on healthcare – there was a need to be vigilant and

mobilised in order

- to preserve the balance in the national schemes which much not be

sacrificed on the altar of mobility and the laws of the market and of

competition;

- to preserve the quality of national healthcare;

- and its universality, notably in terms of accessibility, both geographical

and financial.

Consultation of the social partners on the ‘active inclusion of the people

furthest from the labour market’ (2 nd phase)

Henri LOURDELLE, Adviser, introduced the second phase of consultation of

the social partners launched by the Commission on 17 October 2007 and

entitled ‘Promoting the active inclusion of the people furthest from the labour

market’.

This consultation followed on from the initiative taken by the Commission on 8

February 2006 in its communication ‘Concerning a consultation on action at

EU level to promote the active inclusion of the people furthest from the labour

market’, on the basis of Article 138 of the Treaty.

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In its reply dated 15 May the same year, the ETUC, while welcoming the fact

that the Commission was paying particular attention to this question, and

underlining that it was itself backing this approach, commented inter alia that

before including the people who were furthest from it in the labour market, it

was necessary to satisfy a number of ‘prerequisites’, such as the guarantee of

an adequate income or access to social protection systems of quality and/or

social and training services.

The ETUC concluded by indicating its agreement to the idea of initiatives

being taken at European level, which would happen as a supplement to the

measures taken at national level, because it was first and foremost on the

ground that these problems needed to be dealt with, by getting the people

concerned involved and engaged.

But before the Union embarked on a fresh initiative, the ETUC raised two

prior conditions:

- a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the measures already

implemented

- and the reinforcement of those which had already proved their worth.

That being done, and in light of the specific features of the challenge posed,

the ETUC did, however, feel there was value in a new European initiative.

But it ruled out two extreme measures:

- European measures of a legislative order which would be liable to be

unsuited in light of the complexity and diversity of the situations to be

addressed and taken into account;

- measures of the ‘recommendation’ type, which seemed to be too weak

an instrument compared to the challenges raised.

On the other hand, it advocated getting involved in the framework of the

‘rationalisation’ of the Open Method of Coordination (the OMC) by

reinforcing the Inclusion OMC, by the definition of objectives and specific

National Action Plans concerning these people. This would then be the

subject of follow-up and evaluation.

With regard to the measures relating to the labour market, the ETUC

- considered that they might be the subject of discussions between the

social partners in the framework of the Social Dialogue which might

lead to negotiations at that level so as not to be stuck at the

‘declarations’ stage, and

- recalled that the question of access to employment for the

disadvantaged already formed part of the ‘Work Programme for the

Social Partners, 2006-2008’.

Finally, the ETUC also pointed out that this responsibility was not one just for

the social partners alone, it was equally a matter for the Member States and

the Union, notably with regard to the funding of the measures to be taken

upstream of the insertion on the labour market or downstream in the follow-up

and accompaniment of the people concerned.

The new phase of consultation and the issues involved

On 17 October 2007, the Commission published a new Communication

entitled: ‘Modernising social protection for greater social justice and economic

cohesion: taking forward the active inclusion of people furthest from the

1


labour market’ 3 , thereby launching a second phase of consultation on the

basis of Article 138(3) of the Treaty.

In this Communication, the Commission explored three strategic thrusts:

- paying greater attention to the ‘minimum income schemes’ so that they

fully played their role in terms of social integration;

- exploiting the potential of inclusive labour markets, by offering training

to all unemployed people before their 6 th month, and a ‘fresh start’

before their 12 th month of unemployment, by improving the

attractiveness of work, its quality, growth and productivity of labour and

by reducing the proportion of poor work, which went hand in hand with

the objective of increasing employment rates 4 ;

- improving access to quality social services, in tandem with the role that

could be played by information technologies in the provision of social

and health services.

Among the actions envisaged, the Commission proposed deepening the

Open Method of Coordination in this area by adopting some common

principles and monitoring and evaluating them. These common principles

relating to the three active inclusion thrusts should offer a concrete, integrated

framework for their implementation.

These common principles would be defined along the main lines below:

- sufficient income support to avoid social exclusion;

- link to the labour market;

- link with better access to quality services.

This was the framework around which the debate was structured.

The organisations first signified their agreement with the positions defended

by the ETUC at the first consultation.

The debate then went on to look at:

- The minimum income: Several organisations thought it was important

for the Commission to go beyond the OMC, and wanted, for example,

to see a debate organised at European level, on the basis of Council

Recommendation 92/441/EEC of 24 June 1992, ‘on common criteria

concerning sufficient resources and social assistance in social

protection systems’, on the criteria to be set in place, notably on the

introduction of a minimum of European resources which might lead to

the setting in place of a binding legal instrument in that field. Some did

wonder, nevertheless, about the criteria that would be applied in

setting it. Others likewise insisted that a careful distinction must be

drawn between the ‘minimum income’ and the ‘minimum wage’, with

the latter being a matter for the competence and responsibility of the

social partners in the framework of the social dialogue. In any event,

this ‘minimum income’, which some would like to call the ‘socially vital

minimum’, should none the less be set above the poverty threshold

taken as a reference at European level. Thought ought likewise to be

given to what might ‘support’ this minimum income (such as housing,

access to care, to education, etc).

3 COM(2007) 620 final

4 ‘Guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States (2005-2008)’, OJ L 205 of 6.8.2005,

p. 21

1


- Access to quality social services: In the minds of the speakers, the key

issue was to implement social rights, recognised in the Charter and the

new treaty (the Lisbon Treaty). But it was also important to evaluate

how much they would cost, so as to guarantee their funding. This

likewise applied in the case of healthcare services, with due regard to

the consequences that their relocation might have in terms of their

viability (as had already been stressed in the previous debate).

- Inclusion and the labour market: Several speakers had reservations

regarding the importance attached by the Commission to the concept

of ‘active inclusion’, because they felt that it might give rise to

slippages. Active social inclusion was more than just work, it also

involved an adequate income. Moreover, this concept needed to be

seen in the context of strong, quality social protection systems and

social security. A suitable response needed to be found, in terms of

social rights and income, for the transitional periods when people were

moving from one job to another, or when there was talk of flexibility,

which must therefore not become another word for ‘precariousness’.

Attention also needed to be paid to training and getting young people

quickly on to the labour market. Finally, this relationship between

inclusion and the labour market for the people the furthest away from it

needed to be built on the one hand in conjunction with the Lisbon

Strategy, but also in conjunction with the work programme of the

European social partners.

Social Services of General Interest (SSGI)

In his introduction to this point, Confederal Secretary Jozef NIEMIEC recalled

the broad strokes of the Communication entitled ‘Services of general interest,

including social services of general interest: a new European commitment’,

adopted by the Commission on 20 November 2007. He pointed out in

particular that this Communication looked, from the point of view of the

Commission, at the progress achieved since the publication of the White

Paper in 2004, while taking account of the provisions in the new modifying

treaty. It drew upon the results of the public consultation on social services,

launched in 2006. The Commission’s Communication thus drew on three

working documents relating to the following subjects:

- The progress achieved since the publication in 2004 of the White

Paper on services of general interest;

- The frequently asked questions regarding State aid;

- The frequently asked questions regarding the application of the rules

for the award of public contracts for social services of general interest.

Jozef NIEMIEC similarly recalled the petition on public services (SGI)

launched by the ETUC and the stances adopted by the Federation of Public

Services.

This presentation was followed by a debate.

The first point emerging from the discussion, according to some speakers,

was that this debate on services, which had already been underway for some

1


time, had, over time, made for some clarifications, for instance the distinction

needing to be made between technical infrastructure ‘services’, such as

water, energy, waste, etc, and ‘social services’ and ‘health services’.

But the vast majority of the speakers regretted that the communication did not

go far enough, and considered that there was a need for a global legal

framework for social services and health services.

Some speakers even commented that as things stood, healthcare enjoyed

less protection than the big ‘networks’; and while social services were subject

to the rules of public contracts and competition, and there was no binding

legislation at national level, in the absence of European legislation, nothing

could be imposed upon the service providers.

In conclusion, Jozef NIEMIEC argued that:

- there was an ever greater need for a framework directive to clarify the

principles, because certain subjects were transverse, such as the

public/private partnership for example;

- social (and health) services constituted elements in the ‘Social

Security’ of European citizens, and were essential in guaranteeing

social cohesion and solidarity. Limits needed to be found to the rules

stemming from the Internal Market which would cast fresh doubt on

these principles and values;

- finally, the Commission proposals needed to be analysed in the light of

other proposals that it had made in other texts.

For the rest, an ETUC conference on these issues might be staged in April

2008 and a reaction to these Commission proposals should be prepared for

the Executive Committee.

ETUC campaign on healthcare and long-term care

Jozef NIEMIEC called for the views of the participants on the implementation

of the Action Plan in the Seville Manifesto, as presented at the Executive

Committee on 17 and 18 October 2007, notably in the field of healthcare and

long-term care.

The plan was to organise a major Conference on this subject, out of

European funds, aimed at a wide audience, with invitations being extended to

journalists, the purpose being to use references to good examples in order to

present our demands, notably vis-à-vis the Parliament, the Council and the

Member States.

In the discussion which followed, some argued that the focus should be not

so much on spending, but more on investments in terms of health which were

‘productive’ for workers and for the economy. The point was that these

created jobs and therefore wealth. They were based upon solidarity. But the

solidarity systems were more solid than the market. Finally, the European

model was not the American model, under which millions of Americans lacked

any kind of health cover, and thus, according to the participants, ‘it was

important to be defended against the waves of privatisation in this area’.

Winding up the debate, Jozef NIEMIEC stated, reiterating what certain others

had said, that if this theme of ‘health’ was chosen, it would be necessary to

1


‘target the angle of attack’, for it was a huge subject. There needed to be

proper agreement on the signal to be sent out:

- Reacting to the ‘merchant’ approach to the question?

- Dealing with patient mobility?

- Denouncing the privatisation of healthcare systems (privatisation

against which colleagues in Hungary had demonstrated in their own

country)?

- Countering the single belief that the market could give better answers

than the existing systems?

So it was important to take time for reflection and discussion so that the

ETUC campaign to be launched on this subject of health really delivered

added value at the European and national levels.

Information

At the request of Jozef NIEMIEC, Adviser Henri Lourdelle provided various

information on:

- The directive on the ‘portability’ of complementary pension rights. The

Portuguese Presidency was trying a final compromise operation before

the Social Affairs Council which was due to meet next 5 December and

to decide on this proposal, which incidentally had lost its initial

character (the ‘portability’ had disappeared) and become a proposed

directive ‘on the minimal prescriptions designed to increase the

mobility of workers by improving the acquisition and preservation of

complementary pension rights’.

- The seminar on the employment of disabled persons. This seminar,

organised by the ETUC jointly with the European Disability Forum, was

held in Lisbon from 26 to 28 October, on the theme of access to

employment and training for disabled people, with the participation of

the Secretary of State in charge of disability issues in the Portuguese

government. After some rich and fruitful discussions, a joint statement

binding upon the members of the two organisations was debated and

adopted. It could be consulted on the sites of both the ETUC and the

European Disability Forum.

- The Pensions Forum. This was due to be held on 30 November. After

a quick run-down of the points to be tackled at this forthcoming

meeting, the working group was informed that the members of the

Forum, in other words the ones forming the ETUC delegation (6

members), would be renewed for a two-year term during the course of

2008. The organisations called upon by the ETUC, which was

responsible for appointing the members to represent it at the Forum,

undertook, if they responded favourably, to participate effectively in the

meetings of the Forum (a maximum of two meetings per year). Equally,

in its nominations, the ETUC tried to ensure a rotation in its

composition, with every renewal, between the national and sectoral

organisations.

With no other points on the agenda, and nothing being raised by the

participants, Jozef NIEMIEC closed the meeting.

1


2. Pensions

2.1 The meetings of the Pensions Forum

The Pensions Forum met twice in 2007: on 9 March and 30 November.

2.1.1 Report of the meeting of the Pensions Forum on 9 March

2007

Information on the latest developments at European level with a bearing

on complementary pensions

Protection, in the event of the employer’s insolvency, of complementary

pension rights acquired by paid workers, updated following the ECJ

(European Court of Justice) ruling in Robins versus the British government

(DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities)

The Forum was notified about the recent ruling by the European Court of

Justice to the effect that a Member State was not required to make up the

losses in retirement pension resulting from the insolvency of a business by a

complete payment. This ruling should generate a reaction from the

Commission, with the United Kingdom not having correctly implemented

the directive. The Commission was going ahead with a detailed analysis of

retirement schemes in the UK and in other countries to see whether other

problems existed.

It was likewise observed that the IRP directive limited the scope of the

directive on insolvency. The next stages would be to present an internal

analysis followed by a report on Article 8 before the summer. This document

would indicate the lessons to be learned, including by other Member States

which might potentially be concerned.

The Forum members were invited to submit their comments as technical

experts and to indicate to the Commission whether Article 8 needed to be

amended.

In the course of the debate following this presentation, the following were of

note:

- The intervention by the representative from Eurocadres wondering about

the responsibility of the Government in this matter, and taking the view

that at least 50% of the rights should be guaranteed. The Forum should

look into ways of avoiding such problems in the future.

- The Belgian representative raised the case of ASW (Allied Steel and

Wire), where workers had contributed to their retirement pensions for 30

years and had ended up by losing 80% of their rights.

1


- The German representative thought it was important for the provisions

that were applicable to be clearly defined. The State was responsible

only if there was a shortfall.

- The EFRP 5 considered that this case was of particular interest for the new

Member States, because it highlighted the problems existing in the

second pillar.

- The EAPI 6 felt that it would be necessary to come back to this ruling,

which raised various layers of responsibility.

In its response to these comments, the Commission first explained that it was

important to define who was really responsible. So an ‘acceptable’ level of

guarantee by the State needed to be established.

The President of the Forum concluded the debate by indicating that in his

view, the priority was not to revise Article 8, but in fact to ascertain

whether the directive was being transposed and how it was being out into

practice.

Follow-up of the implementation of directive 2003/41/EC on the activities and

supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision (DG Internal

Market and Services)

The Commission brought the Pensions Forum up to date on the progress of

the implementation of the IRP directive.

Italy had notified the Commission of an imminent draft law.

Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein had notified their desire to implement the

directive.

The Commission was examining the implementation in Bulgaria and Romania

and had launched a shortcoming procedure for failure to implement or

inadequate implementation against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

A fresh examination of the implementation would be carried out in 2008,

notably in light of the work of the CEIOPS 7 Complementary Pensions

Committee.

With regard to ‘Solvency II’, a framework directive was to be adopted in July

2007, but it did not cover the occupational retirement institutions.

A working sub-group had been set up within the Financial Services Committee

to study the impacts of the ageing of the population on the financial markets.

The basic message from this sub-group, which was in the process of finalising

its report, due on 21 March, was to urge households to step up their financial

5 European Federation for Retirement Provision

6 European Association of Paritarian Institutions

7 Committee of European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Supervisors

1


participation in private systems (pension savings), because public pension

systems should not be able to meet expectations.

Lastly, two other studies were announced:

- The first on reserve funds and individual public fund retirement schemes

(available in principle in March);

- The second, scheduled for the end of 2008, related to long-term savings

instruments.

In the debate that followed, Henri LOURDELLE, for the ETUC, reacted to the

allegations to the effect that the public pension schemes would be less able to

guarantee the rights of pensioners and future pensioners than private

schemes. Without wishing to come back to the Robins case, he indicated that

this was an over-hasty and groundless statement, and that the social

partners, and in particular the organisation which he represented, were

determined to ensure that fatalism did not force people to resign themselves

to going for retirement cover more geared to the private sector. For him, this

was certainly not an unstoppable trend.

The Commission replied that this was a reflection from a group where the

Commission had only an observer role, and that this should, on the contrary,

encourage greater vigilance regarding the evolutions in the area of pensions.

Presentation of the latest developments in the new simplified OMC (Open

Method of Coordination) and information on the next report drawn up by the

Commission in collaboration with the Social Protection Committee on flexible

retirement practices (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities)

This presentation took over the main thrusts of the SPC 8 , and, with regard

more specifically to the field of pensions which was of most particular concern

to the Forum, a number of messages were issued, including:

- The need to have an approach grounded in the lifecycle, consolidating the

link between contributions and services in the framework of management

of the progression in life expectancy,

- The importance of creating links with employment policies and notably the

development of quality jobs,

- The setting in place of active ageing strategies,

- The need for governments to compensate the theoretical replacement

rates which showed that the pension of a typical worker up until 2050

would vary and translate into substantial drops in most countries at a

certain retirement age, notably in those which had implemented global

reforms (and had improved the viability of their system).

In the debate that followed this presentation, the Eurocadres

representative expressed anxiety as to the future suitability of the

retirement systems, arguing that there needed to be a match between the

viability of the systems and the amount of pensions. This meant that it was

important to ensure better coverage in terms of retirement.

8 Available on the Social Protection Committee website

2


The representatives from the EFRP and BusinessEurope shared the concern

of the Eurocadres representative, and in addition felt that the replacement

rates linked to private savings circulating in the new Member States were not

very realistic.

The ETUC representative, for his part, was first of all amazed that the report

should dare to rely on … 50-year projections! Yet these were entirely

aleatory, because over such a span of time, they could never take into

account the reality of future birth rates or the effects of migratory movements.

Such projections, while interesting, could not be used as a ‘currency’ and it

should always be borne in mind that a ‘demographic’ projection was never

a forecast, let alone a certainty!

As to the idea of encouraging workers to work for longer, this could be

discussed, but in such a case:

- it would be necessary first of all for the workers to have the possibility of

keeping going up to the end of their normal working lives. These days,

however, companies had the annoying tendency to sack their workers

when they began to get close to or pass the age of 55, as was

confirmed by activity rates in the EU between 55 and 65;

- on the other hand, there needed to be work available. And that went

back to the strategies applied by companies to develop research and

development and to sign up to lifelong training agreements for their

staff.

But ensuring pension funding meant tackling the employment not just of

older workers, but also of younger workers, and in particular, their current

difficulties in getting settled permanently into employment. The ETUC thus

agreed that there needed to be a link between pension policies and

employment policies, but on condition that it was employment overall, and

not just with a narrow focus on a single age bracket, without mentioning the

problem of gender and employment.

Follow-up of the debates going on in the Parliament and the Council on the

proposed directive designed to reinforce the portability of complementary

pension rights (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities)

The Commission provided the latest details available with regard to the

proposed directive on the portability of complementary pension rights 9 ,

following the meeting of the labour and social affairs ministers which was held

in Finland last December.

The debate had explored only two questions:

- the ‘vesting periods’ which were set at 5 years

- the minimum membership age, which was extended to 25.

As to the question of transferability, this had left this proposal and the

implementation of the directive would be set at 10 years.

9 See the report on the previous meeting

2


Parliament should, according to it, be drawing up its position next April.

In the debate which followed this presentation, some people stressed the

bigger place which would be left for the social partners.

The ETUC representative, while recognising the efforts made by the

successive Presidencies and their wish to involve the social partners,

wondered about the interest that there might still be in having such a

directive. The point was that the ‘vesting periods’ had been extended, the

membership age pushed back and the transfers of rights forgotten! Where

now was the ‘social added value’ of this proposal? The point was that with, for

instance, this extension of the ‘vesting periods’, this proposal penalised all

workers under limited-term contacts or temporary contracts – which rarely

went beyond two years, let alone five years! – and in very concrete terms, it

was overwhelmingly young people and women who worked under such

contracts and who would thus be penalised.

He further underscored a contradiction by the Union, which on the one hand

was banking on a drop in public pensions and advocating large-scale

recourse to private schemes, and on the other was toughening up the

conditions for joining such schemes! What was going on?

The Eurocadres representative shared and supported the comments by the

ETUC representative.

Updating of the Pensions Forum work programme

The president set out the points which he felt needed to be explored by the

Pensions Forum in the framework of its work programme.

The first thing was to carry on working on the obstacles linked to the mobility

of workers in the field of complementary pensions and on the implementation

of the directive on the complementary retirement institutions.

But three themes might be explored:

- Study on the availability of funds, in other words how they are

transformed into years of pensionable service.

- Further investigation of the theme on the transparency and information

needed by workers.

- Search for good practices aimed at complementary pensions, with regard

to both the institutions and the markets.

In the ensuing debate, the first proposal quite captured the interest of the

participants. And the Commission explained that a call for proposals on this

study was to be launched this week, but the help of the Forum was also

requested, which would take the form not of the setting up of a new working

group, but rather of interactive exchanges.

With regard to the second proposal, even if Eurocadres and the trade union

representatives stressed the importance of this question of transparency –

notably with regard to the promises made about the future – it did

nevertheless raise strong doubt on the part of several Forum members, in

particular the representatives from the managing bodies, who wondered

whether, by this process, the Commission was not envisaging a new

legislative initiative. The Forum President was at pains to reassure them.

2


Some attendees suggested instead that the existing directives on information

be logged, to see what kinds of shortcomings could be found, notably with

regard to workers when their employers became insolvent and they did not

understand what was happening to them.

The Commission carefully noted these reactions.

Debate on the draft recommendation to the Commission submitted by

the Pensions Forum working group on the collection of information

regarding complementary pensions (DG Employment, Social Affairs and

Equal Opportunities)

The Commission reported on the working group tasked with collecting data

and thanked the members of the Forum for the observations they had made

at the previous meeting. In light of the comments made, and for the sake of

avoiding any overlap, the Commission had decided to work with the ISSA 10

and the OECD 11 to incorporate the aspects identified by the working group

into the surveys and data available.

These two bodies then presented the areas of co-operation designed to

improve the collection of data.

Exchange of information

British pension schemes: a presentation was made of the latest developments,

notably with the creation of personal retirement savings accounts intended to

cover a large part of the assets and to ensure for the people identified as not

setting aside sufficient savings for their retirement a transferable, affordable

complementary pension cover.

Miscellaneous questions

The meeting ended with the setting of the date for the next meeting, initially

scheduled for 16 November 2007, but to be held over until 30 November.

10 International Social Security Association

11 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which brings together the

governments of 30 countries abiding by the principles of democracy and the market economy

2


2.1.2 Report of the meeting of the Pensions Forum on

30 November 2007

Information on the latest developments at European level with a bearing

on complementary pensions

Protection of title to complementary pensions of workers in the event of the

insolvency of the insurance – Directive 2002/74 (DG Employment, Social

Affairs and Equal Opportunities)

This Directive, number 2002/74, relates to the protection of employees in the

event of the insolvency of their employer. The Robins 12 case and notably

Article 8 had revealed that this ‘guarantee’ could be interpreted quite

restrictively by the Court of Justice of the European Communities. The

Member States and the social partners had been consulted on the

implementation of Articles 6, 7, and 8 of this directive 13 . After this factual

consultation, which finished in October, it appeared that only the ETUC, in its

written reply, had asked for a redrafting for the sake of the reinforcement of

the rights of pensioners and future pensioners. However, for the moment, the

Commission had indicated in the course of the meeting that it was not

planning any modification of that nature. Henri LOURDELLE, for the ETUC,

stood by his request, which the Commission noted.

Nevertheless, it would seem that a new ‘Robins case’ had also arisen in the

United Kingdom with regard to workers who had taken early retirement and

had seen their rights reduced by 20%.

Checks were underway with the British authorities.

Still with regard to this directive 2002/74, and its transposition, it would also

seem that there were big differences between countries when it came to

transposition. Indeed, one case involving Sweden was currently before the

Court of Justice 14 .

Advances in the setting in place of Directive 2003/41/EC on the activities and

supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision (DG Internal

Market and Services)

Three States were currently concerned by transposition problems:

- A meeting was due on 4 December with the Czech authorities to find a

solution to the problems encountered;

- With regard to Poland, the procedure launched against it was running

its course;

- In Hungary, the promulgation law would come into force in February.

Moreover, the CEIOPS was preparing a report on the implementation of the

directive which should be ready by early 2008.

As to ‘Solvency II’ and its potential impact on occupational pension schemes,

the Commission stated that there would be no systematic extension in the

12 See minutes of the Forum meeting on 9 March 2007

13 Ditto

14 Case C/310/07

2


field of private pensions; it was, though, intending to ask the CEIOPS to

explore the question.

The EFRP threw into the debate a study which the organisation had

conducted among its members (the replies received came from the

organisations in 20 Member States) on the implementation of the directive,

which indicated that:

- The implementation of the directive had taken too long;

- It was still too early to make an examination on a large scale and

measure its potential impact;

- However, the study provided a good database for the provision of

cross-border pensions.

It likewise appeared that:

- the participants in the study had assessed the rules implemented and

the removal of the exceptions;

- they also considered that it was a good step forwards for mutual

recognition, rather than towards the harmonisation of the systems,

which most of them did not want;

- in their view, the ‘supervision’ had been perfected.

Some of them also shared their anxiety or even their frustrations. For

instance, some considered that:

- the specific features of their systems were not adequately taken into

account;

- certain administrative and regulatory ‘burdens’ in their view generated

high costs;

- there was a need for definitions of certain concepts, such as that of

‘integral funding at all times’…

Advancement of the discussions on the modified proposed directive on the

minimal prescriptions designed to increase the mobility of workers by

improving the acquisition and preservation of complementary pension rights

(DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities)

The Commission representative reported on the latest modifications made to

the directive as they appeared from the adoption of the proposal at first

reading at the Parliament, following the amended proposal from the

Commission which would be debated at the Social Affairs Council on 5

December next.

The major modifications related inter alia to:

- ‘vesting periods’, which might be 5 years (instead of the 2-year

maximum in the Commission’s initial proposal);

- the minimum membership age, which might be set at 25 (instead of 21

in the initial proposal);

- the scrapping of Article 6 on portability;

- the implementation of this directive would be set for 2010 (instead of

2008, as initially planned), with a possible extension of 5 years for the

articles relating to the conditions for the acquisition of the rights and

the preservation of latent rights …

The representative from the Portuguese Presidency of the Union restated the

Presidency’s desire to achieve an agreement at the Council on 5 and 6

2


December next, indicating the most recent compromises that she planned to

present:

- there would be a single date of entry into force (deadline for

transposition) which would be 2013 for the whole directive;

- the directive would apply also to periods of employment after 1 July

2013;

- with regard to the conditions for acquisitions, the ‘vesting periods’

would be 2 years and the minimum age brought back to 23.

The Presidency regarded this as a ‘balanced’ compromise.

During the ensuing debate, BusinessEurope 15 pledged its support for the

Parliament text. It was particularly pleased that the ‘vesting periods’ were set

at 5 years, that the membership age was also set at 25, that portability was

removed …

In contrast, for its part, the ETUC deplored the fact that these deadlines had

been pushed back, notably the age and the ‘vesting periods’, which on the

one hand penalised young people, but also all workers in atypical forms of

work, in particular working as temps or on limited-term contracts, rarely longer

than 2 years and certainly not 5 years, which again penalised young people,

but also women, who were most likely to be in these types of jobs.

The ETUC likewise took issue with the Union’s contradictory reasoning: on

the one hand it claimed to be fighting age-related discrimination, while on the

other, it was bringing in legislative measures which reintroduced these types

of discrimination!

The CEEP 16 announced that it found itself in a position halfway between the

one defended by BusinessEurope and the one defended by the ETUC. In

particular, it was in favour of all measures liable to improve mobility, which

was why it backed the ETUC and deplored the scrapping of transferability

under the Finnish Presidency.

The Eurocadres representative supported the ETUC stance and shared the

same concerns. He also underscored the role of the social partners which

was underlined in the proposal.

At this, the EFRP representative stressed that if the role of the social partners

was underlined, this did none the less depend heavily on the situation of

those same partners in the various Member States. This organisation also

underlined the lack of clarity on certain points in the proposal.

The Polish representative did not want any more mobility and found the

directive to be already very bold. The social partners in his country did not

have the culture of the ‘second pillar’.

The representative from the EAPSPI 17 agreed to all the changes adopted in

the new proposed directive.

Report on flexible retirement practices, presented by the Commission and the

Social Protection Committee (SPC)

15 On 23 January 2007, the UNICE changed its name and is now known as BusinessEurope

16 The CEEP represents companies with public participation and services of general economic interest

17 European Association of Public Sector Pension Institutions

2


A reminder was issued regarding the various activities of the SPC in the field

of pensions, notably on the reflections it had conducted during 2007, which

had related to flexibility of retirement age.

The Forum was also informed that a report on early retirement was underway

and that the SPC was preparing its joint report on pensions for 2008.

The studies conducted had indicated that the latest trends on the labour

market confirmed the decline in the rate of employment after the age of 55.

The major transitions occurred between the ages of 54 and 55.

Paradoxically, however, there were signs of an increase in the rate of

employment among older people.

But the situation varied widely from one Member State to another, just as

there were divergences depending on qualifications (there was evidence of

an increase in the rate of employment among more highly qualified people).

Convergence in terms of rates of employment between the sexes was

proceeding very slowly.

The option of flexible retirement that was available in some Member States

was having a favourable impact on pushing back the age at which people

were retiring.

The other question that likewise arose was whether incentives to carry on

working were adequate, and it appeared:

- that there was a need to reinforce them for the lowest paid workers,

and

- that they should also concern companies.

Moreover, certain rules should be relaxed

- so as to allow more combining of employment/retirement,

- to open up the markets,

- to improve the opportunities for older workers.

Future activities of the Forum

The Forum President opened the debate by first recalling the activities which

the Forum had been engaged in since its creation, notably

- by assisting the Commission in the collection of data concerning

complementary pensions,

- by working on the question of the transformation of capitalisation into

years of pensionable service,

- by reflecting about the question of ‘well-informed choice’,

- and also by reflecting about the best structures to be set up for the

‘supervision’ of the schemes.

He then delivered a few observations likely to guide the future work of the

Forum, first recalling that the Commission was very keen on the Forum,

notably because of its composition, bringing together on the one hand the

Member States, the social partners, and the managers, and on the other, two

DGs which were not necessarily in the habit of working together: DG

Employment and Social Affairs and DG Internal Market.

So his view was that the thrust of the ‘transferability’ of pensions should not

be definitively buried.

On the other hand, in light of past experience, there was a need to abandon

overly ambitious studies regarding European legislation or the social

protection systems.

2


It was important to keep the exchanges of information and updates as well as

the exchanges of different points of view on ongoing or future developments


In the debate which followed this presentation, several speakers agreed, for

instance those from

- BusinessEurope and the ETUC, who came out in favour of continuing

the work of the Forum, while remaining loyal to the Forum’s starting

point, namely a tool for technical assistance for the Commission and

therefore not launching ideas that would lead to stalemates. The ETUC

added, for its part, that it was preferable to use the international bodies

that existed (OECD, ISSA, EIRO 18 and the Dublin Foundation) which

were well resourced, rather than referring to the members – in this

phase of seeking and collecting information – and notably the Member

States which were already having to field heavy demands from both

the Union (for the framing of Action Plans, for instance) and the

Council of Europe;

- or the EFRP, which stated it was likewise in favour of reducing the

number of studies, but which stressed that things had to be looked at

not just from the social angle but also from an economic angle.

Others, such as the AEIP or the ACME 19 , for example, put forward some new

angles of work, such as

- exploring how the work of the CEIOPS on a model of solvency rules

might be applicable to occupational pension schemes,

- or working on the mixed schemes and the terminology used …

The President thanked the participants for their contributions and was at

pains to stress

- that because of its composition, the Forum needed to tackle the

questions from both the social and economic point of view, without

neglecting either one,

- that it must continue its follow-up work whether it be from the

legislative point of view or at the CEIOPS level,

- that its role needed to remain a technical assistance role, with the

political aspects being addressed within the Social Protection

Committee.

Mutual exchanges of information

The Forum was informed of the results of two studies:

- one conducted into annuities (the Mercer report),

- the other into the quantitative evaluation of the modified proposed

directive (Hewitt Associates).

After this, the Bulgarian representative introduced the pension system in force

in her country.

Miscellaneous questions

18 European Industrial Relations Observatory

19 Association des Assureurs Coopératifs et Mutualistes Européens

2


The President reported that early in 2008 the members of the Pensions

Forum would be renewed, together with the mandates of the President and

the two Vice-Presidents.

The social partners would then be invited to notify the Commission of the

composition of their respective delegations.

The next meeting of the Forum was set for Friday 13 June, 2008, at the

Borschette centre.

2.2 The follow-up to the directive on the portability of

complementary pension rights

At the meeting of the Social Affairs Council on 5 and 6 December 2007, with

the Member States not having managed to agree on the final compromises

put forward by the Portuguese Presidency (see the report above on the

Pensions Forum on 30 November 2007), the proposed directive could not be

adopted. It should be noted, as had already been indicated, that this directive

which initially related to the ‘portability of complementary pension rights’,

because of the disappearance of this possibility over the course of the

compromises agreed under the different Union Presidencies, had also

changed its title and its purpose and had become a proposed directive

‘relating to the minimum prescriptions designed to increase the mobility of

workers by improving the acquisition and preservation of complementary

pension rights’.

The ball was now in the court of the Slovenian Presidency, which had been

holding the reins of the Union since 1 January 2008, and it might even

continue into the court of the French Presidency which would take over on 1

July 2008.

3. Labour market: ‘flexicurity’ and demographic

questions

3.1 Meeting with the Social Protection Committee (SPC) on 11

September 2007

The social partners had been welcomed by the SPC, meeting in plenary on

11 September last, to report on their analyses and reactions to the

Communication that the Commission had published in June 2007 entitled

‘Towards Common Principles of Flexicurity: More and better jobs through

flexibility and security’ 20

Unsurprisingly, the employers, and in particular BusinessEurope, broadly

supported the Commission’s approach, insisting inter alia on the need to

introduce ever more flexibility into the labour market in response to the

demands of globalisation and competitiveness.

20 (COM (2007) 359 final)

2


Without denying the realities of globalisation and competitiveness, the ETUC

defended an approach more critical of the flexicurity presented by the

Commission, taken on board by certain SPC members during the short

debate that followed the speeches.

The ETUC delegation – made up of Jozef NIEMIEC, Confederal Secretary,

and Henri LOURDELLE, Adviser – first recalled that the social partners within

the Social Dialogue were already committed to a reflection on this issue 21 , but

that this common reflection did not stop them from having different

‘sensitivities’ on certain aspects of this question.

For instance, the ETUC first shared its concern at certain messages

contained in the Communication, such as the one to the effect that the

protection of employment was a conception and an idea that belonged to the

past, with the communication even going so far as to make a distinction on

the protection of employment in the ‘strict’ sense, and the ETUC wondered

‘What is strict? What is ‘less’ strict? How are the lines drawn between these

ideas, and who draws them?’

Furthermore, the Commission seemed to take the view that everything that

might be considered to be average protection of employment was to be

resisted. What about the social model being preached by the Union bodies?

That would no longer be a model ‘striving upwards’ but one ‘tending

downwards’.

And the ETUC referred to the studies conducted into this issue, notably the

one by the OECD showing that the greater the degree of ‘security’ for

workers, the easier their mobility and their ‘flexibility’. In other words, for the

ETUC – while it had nothing in principle against mobility and flexibility,

although it did object to ‘social insecurity’! – the protection of employment and

the protection of workers needed to be seen as complementary points, rather

as the Danes did (by protecting employment by long notice periods, thereby

providing the possibility to give training and support to workers as from the

very first day on which they were notified of an impending redundancy).

The ETUC thus felt that by presenting the question of flexicurity from this

angle, the Commission was not putting the problem properly. To the ETUC,

‘protecting employment’ meant

- Not opening the way for workers to be dismissed ‘overnight’,

- Banning unfair dismissals,

- Introducing sufficiently long notice periods – as was already the

practice in certain countries which, moreover, were experiencing a

certain economic success – to allow workers complete financial

security while solutions were implemented to find them a ‘decent’ job

within the sense accepted by the ILO,

- Guaranteeing redundancy payments which did not mean a sudden

plunge in the standard of living, which might lead to sundry forms of

social exclusion …

21 This ‘common reflection’ gave rise to a social dialogue document entitled ‘Essential challenges

facing the European labour markets: joint analysis by the European social partners’, which was

formally adopted by the ETUC Executive Committee at its meeting on 17 and 18 October 2007, which

was held in Lisbon.

3


The ETUC did, however, recognise that certain themes addressed in the

Commission’s document might gain its support, such as lifelong training or

social protection. But a careful reading of the document led it to temper its

support slightly.

For example, with regard to the ‘active’ labour market policies and the

unemployment benefit systems, the communication revealed a twofold

concern: not to spend too much in this area and to get people into work as

quickly as possible. In other Commission texts, getting people into work had

been dependent upon a two-pronged approach:

- A personalised approach to the would-be employee;

- A potential offer of training before the person was (re-)employed.

Here, though, there was only the first approach, and as to the second –

potential training – it kicked in only once the person concerned had accepted

a job … of whatever kind. In a sense, to the ETUC, this meant ‘putting the

cart before the horse’, and in particular, it was inconsistent with the traditional

Commission line about ‘the quality of employment’, recalled even more

forcefully by the Director General, Mr Van Der Pass, at the Conference

organised by the Commission on 15 June last, relating to ‘active inclusion and

minimal resources’.

For the ETUC, then, it was not accurate to defend the idea that ‘workfare’

could be more effective than ‘welfare’, in any case not as far as the fight

against poverty and in favour of social inclusion went, and in the context of

globalisation which meant that unskilled jobs would be under constant

pressure.

In this document, a new approach also seemed to be given to the expression

‘modern’ social protection – an expression of ‘modernity’ which was not

completely new from the pen of the Commission, since it was among the

common ‘objectives’ implemented in the framework of the pension OMC

(Open Method of Coordination) in particular.

Admittedly, in the world of social protection, this idea of ‘modernity’ is not

completely unknown.

In this text, however, this ‘modernisation’ took a highly curious form.

‘Unemployment allowances’, for example, were no longer perceived as a way

of safeguarding an income in the event of loss of employment, but as a way

of pressurising people to accept a job as quickly as possible, even if it was of

low quality or precarious. Yet as long ago as 1997, when the debate on the

‘activation’ of unemployment first began to emerge, the ETUC had taken a

stance affirming that access to activation measures and services should not

be opposed, explaining that one of these measures without the other

produced counter-productive effects and might even be dangerous by

jeopardising the foundations of the social protection systems, notably those

based on the principle of social ‘insurance’. For if this right became

‘conditioned’ and/or ‘conditional’, how then could the people concerned be

encouraged to contribute and help to fund solidarity systems?

Concluding its report before the Committee members, the ETUC urged a way

out of an ideological approach in favour of adopting a more pragmatic and

more ‘social’ approach, while still noting that the annex accompanying the

Commission document (the annex of possible scenarios) was interesting and

the options it outlined might, for the ETUC, serve as valuable underpinnings

for the debate and lead to ‘social improvement’ in the implementations.

3


3.2 ‘Making demographic change into an opportunity: the

economic potential of older people’ (Berlin, 17 and 18

April 2007)

The ETUC was invited to speak at a Conference organised in Berlin by the

German Presidency on 17 and 18 April 2007, on the theme of ‘The economic

potential of older people’ in society, and more specifically in companies.

In its contribution, the ETUC focused on a certain number of ‘conditions’

which in a sense formed prerequisites and are set out below, which were

indispensable if older people were to be given their rightful place in a society

based upon social inclusion of all.

The first important thing was to recognise the contributions made by older

people. Because despite the ‘received wisdom’, not only did older people not

lose their professional qualities as they aged, they actually boasted ‘added’

experience. Yet what we were seeing was that in companies, for example,

they tended to be the first to be laid off. So companies were not investing in

the development of their skills: but by making them redundant, they were

reducing their productivity (training of new recruits) instead of developing and

organising the transfer of skills and know-how.

Another condition was necessary: we needed to value their life skills: for

example by suggesting that they mentor younger people, but also because

older employees were steeped in the corporate culture … Once again, this

boiled down to fighting against the received ideas such as the alleged lack of

productivity of older workers or the claim that they were more expensive to

train …

To keep older people in the working environment, we needed to develop

lifelong training. Accordingly, in the framework of the Social Dialogue, the

European social partners had agreed on an ‘Action framework’ in favour of

the development of lifelong training (Action programme of the European

Social Partners for 2006-2008). The point was that it was often to late to try to

train someone at the age of 50! The professional and personal capacities

needed to be able to be developed.

But keeping older workers on the labour market implied acting and

developing the negotiations between the social partners, notably with

regard to

- working conditions,

- health and safety in the workplace,

- combating and preventing musculo-skeletal disorders,

- combating stress at work (and the European social partners

have also struck an agreement on this point),

- and working time.

Upstream, too, there was a need on the one hand to reconcile working and

family life, which also culturally still applied more to women, by developing

childcare structures but also structures for older people who might need them,

and by reviewing school term patterns which might leave women no option

but to work only part-time; but it was equally necessary to provide for both

categories the chance to return to work, so that once they had left the world of

employment to care for their children, they did not end up finding themselves

excluded from it for good.

3


Attention also needed to be paid to reviewing the organisation of working

time, in other words it needed to be adapted in accordance with the interests

of the workers. Yet today, the organisation of work was too rigid and too

hierarchical. This meant that employees had little autonomy, little control over

their work and how they did it, and little by little they were losing interest in

their work: whereas it would be better to use their skills and value them.

It was also necessary to review early retirement systems. Certainly, in

some professions (for difficult work) and as part of restructuring operations, it

would always be necessary to make provision for early departures from the

labour market, which were referred to as early retirements. But it had to be

noted that businesses had hijacked this instrument, which was initially

intended for the sake of the ‘social protection’ of the workers concerned,

making it instead into a method of managing older workers: in other words, a

cheap way of ‘shedding’ older workers. So we needed to ensure that the early

retirement systems went back to being used for their original purpose. The

point was that older people must no longer be considered as an obstacle in

the business, and be as it were ‘victimised’, instead they should be

considered as a source of wealth and productive experiences; this meant that

when it came to retirements, workers must have the choice:

- Either of asserting their right to retire at the legal retirement age

without being penalised;

- Or of being able to leave work later if they wanted, while being

paid (allowance for the pension, for example).

In the same way, it was important to encourage the systems of ‘flexible’

retirement so as to avoid breaks between generations of employees within

companies and thus favour internal ‘cohesion’. On the other hand, the

European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) opposed the opinion of those

who wanted a generalised pull-back of the retirement age today, on the

grounds of demographic trends. Certainly, the ETUC intended neither to

ignore them nor to add to them, but it did point out that before forcing workers

to work for longer they should be allowed to go on until the normal end of their

activity (in other words, the legal pensionable age). Yet we were seeing at

European level, and this affected virtually all the countries, that only a third or

so of workers between the ages of 55 and 65 were still in paid employment!

Finally, as had already been pointed out, we needed a change of mindset:

because of a certain lack of interest in work, generated by the very

organisation of that work itself, i.e. the lack of autonomy left to individuals in

terms of the organisation and the performance of that work, there was a

whole generation who were aspiring to leave work as quickly as possible. So

society as a whole needed to make an effort to put a value on the work of

older people.

And by way of conclusion, the success of ‘active ageing’ required that work

be tailored to the individuals, not the individuals to work!

3.3 Report on the work of the High-level Group on

demographic prospects (12 June 2007)

3


The ETUC attended the meeting which was held at the initiative of the

Commission on 12 June 2007, at which the President of the High-level Group

on demographic prospects presented the Group’s report, entitled: ‘Europe’s

demographic future: facts and figures’ 22 .

The purpose of the meeting was to gather the reactions from the participants

and to frame some proposals for the next Report.

The ETUC’s contribution concentrated on four points – which were covered

by the rapporteur – continuing what it had written to the Commission during

the first phase of Consultation which it had launched on demographics:

- the need for caution with regard to very long-term projections, in

particular in terms of the conclusions which might be drawn from them;

- the extension of the length of working time and the quality of work. By

first of all stressing that the ETUC supported this ‘qualitative’ approach,

meaning that while there was talk of ‘flexibility’, there needed to be a

strong insistence on security, because otherwise precariousness would

develop under the pretext of the desire to adapt (conversely, the

representative from BusinessEurope, in his speech, had urged greater

flexibility). As to extending working life, the ETUC recalled that all the

statistics showed that in all European countries, a certain number of

employees were leaving working life even before reaching the legal

retirement age. Consequently, for the ETUC, before measures were

taken to push back the retirement age, workers needed to be allowed

to get to the end of their normal working life and then make a

determination;

- young people, their qualifications and the difficulties they found in

entering working life. In other words, the demographic approach in

conjunction with the labour market should be conducted not just from

the point of view of the older workers, but also from the point of view of

the increasingly late entrance on to the labour market (with the

paradoxical earlier and earlier retirements);

- a better balance between family and working life. By insisting notably

on the aid and the measures to be set in place to help not just women,

but also men wanting to go back to work after some time out of the

labour market: a skills balance, professional guidance course, or

suitable personalised training …

In the course of this meeting, the ‘European Alliance for Families’ set up by a

decision at the Spring Council was also introduced.

This was basically a platform for exchanges of views and experiences relating

to the best family policies in the Member States (best work/life balance, child

education, etc…). But it was made clear that the objective of this Alliance was

not to boost birth rates!

There was much talk about work in conjunction with the NGOs and the social

partners. The ETUC spoke briefly – its contribution gaining the backing of the

Commission representative – to underscore the fact that this Alliance did

indeed remain a ‘platform for exchanges’, to quote the Council, and was not

supposed to become a forum for the ‘framing’ or ‘negotiation’ of family

policies.

22 (SEC(2007)638)

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3.4 Trade union seminars: ‘Demographics and the labour

market – Age management on the labour market: a

challenge for the trade unions’ (April – July 2007)

As part of the social dialogue and with the backing of the Commission, and

beyond its contribution to the Green Paper on demographic challenges, the

ETUC had decided to work on the question of demographic trends and the

labour market, notably from the point of view of the integration of young

people and the maintenance of older people on the labour market.

It started with two observations:

- on the one hand, young people were having increasing difficulty in

finding a stable job, meaning that they were entering the labour market

later and later;

- on the other, the older workers in a company were leaving that same

labour market earlier and earlier, often well before having reached the

legal retirement age.

Yet to the ETUC, this sort of situation, which was quite paradoxical, raised

questions not only in terms of the financing of the social protection systems,

but equally in terms of economic development and social cohesion. The point

was that such a situation was liable to lead to men and women finding

themselves outside the production circuits for over half of their lives, notably

by piling up the difficulties, all at once, at the very start of their working lives or

at the end …

This was the trigger behind the decision to set up, for the member

organisations, two decentralised seminars in 2007, one in Warsaw on 19 and

20 April and the other in Paris on 26 and 27 April, and a final seminar in

Brussels on 3 and 4 July on this theme, which, on the strength of the

experience gained at the level of the Member States in businesses, made it

possible:

- to produce a European summary of the practices observed (best

practices recorded, but also best agreements concluded between the

social partners …),

- to focus on the various instruments implemented.

This was all part of the preparation for the implementation of the Action

Programme of the Social Partners, which sought ‘to make a joint analysis on

the key challenges facing Europe’s labour markets, looking at issues such as

… demographic change, active ageing, youth integration …’ 23

At these seminars, there was a wealth of exchanges and the relevance of the

topic was clear: the bridge between the generations and the solidarity angle

envisaged between the ‘newcomers’ on the labour market and those ‘leaving’

were key elements.

Some broad lines of demands were presented at the session concluding the

work. These would be enumerated at a future Executive Committee.

A brochure had been produced at these seminars and would be available on

the ETUC website.

23 ‘Work Programme of the European Social Partners, 2006-2008’

3


4. Social inclusion

4.1 Conference on ‘Social services of general interest’

(Brussels, 4 June 2007)

At this conference, held in Brussels on 4 June 2007, the ETUC first of all

focused in its speech on the fact that there could be no question, for it, of

leaving it to the market to resolve the social problems, because it was

precisely its shortcomings that had led the Member States to act. The SSGI

should enable the whole of society to achieve fundamental social rights and

provide an answer to social demand, in particular from the most vulnerable or

marginalized people. To put it another way, the point was to get two

objectives appearing in the Treaties on an equal footing: the realisation of

values such as solidarity and social cohesion with the freedoms of the market.

The ETUC also hailed the decision to implement the Open Method of

Coordination (OMC) in the field of healthcare and long-term care, stressing

that the social services could very easily be accommodated in the existing

European procedures such as the Social Inclusion OMC.

However, it urged that the Commission give priority in its work programme to

the adoption of an appropriate legislative framework fitting within a policy of

the development of Services of General Interest (SGI) which would likewise

apply to SSGI and health and long-term services. The point was that the latter

could not be reduced simply to a ‘commercial’ affair which would put the care

providers and the drug suppliers on one side against the consumers (the

patients) on the other. This was the implementation of public health and social

protection policies for which the State could not shirk its responsibilities.

4.2 1 st Forum of social services of general interest: working

for all (Lisbon, 17 September 2007)

On 17 September 2007 the 1 st Forum of social services of general interest

was staged in Lisbon, under the Portuguese Presidency.

Speaking on the final panel, the ETUC addressed the role of social services

of general interest to guarantee the fundamental social rights and to make

them effectively accessible.

It likewise recalled that they met individual and collective social needs, for

which it was necessary for the public authorities to intervene as suppliers

and/or regulators of the market for the sake of guaranteeing access for all

beneficiaries to the services and ensuring certain quality standards, including

across the whole territory of the Member State concerned.

Following this, the ETUC did what it regularly did at debates and bodies of

this kind, and repeated its call for the legal safeguarding of these services,

thereby echoing several interventions in the same sense from participants at

this Forum.

The ETUC also called upon the Commission to be more ambitious in these

areas of social services of general interest and healthcare. It was surprised at

the differentiated treatment applied to healthcare for which a directive was

3


apparently under preparation, and SSGI for which the Commission was

refusing to adopt a comparable initiative.

The ETUC likewise insisted at this demonstration about the importance of

developing the social dialogue in these sectors, because the quality of care

and services provided depended heavily upon the working and remuneration

conditions of the staff employed. All too often, the managers of these types of

services blocked a highly-developed, quality social dialogue by using the

pretext that these were not ordinary ‘services’.

4.3 6 th Round table against social exclusion and for the fight

against poverty (17 and 18 October 2007)

As part of the International Day of the Struggle against Poverty, the

Portuguese Presidency of the Union organised the 6 th Round Table against

exclusion on 16 and 17 October 2007, in Ponta Delgado.

The issues under discussion included the social minima and active inclusion,

child poverty and the risk of handing down poverty from generation to

generation, social protection and the rehabilitation of disabled people, social

inclusion of migrants and ethnic minorities, poverty among women, etc …

Speaking on the final panel, the ETUC, having first saluted the richness of the

debates over the two days, focused on five ‘key messages’.

First of all, the ETUC put the debate into context, recalling that poverty was

not an evil ‘sui generis’ but that it had causes – against which it was important

to react – such as ‘deregulated’ globalisation, the ‘financiarisation’ of the

economy, the tendency to place competitiveness virtually ahead of everything

else, and the failure to keep investing in ‘sustainable development’.

It then drew the attention of the Commission, the Presidency and all the

participants to the definition of the objectives, and especially the choice of the

terms used, which were far from neutral. For example, there was talk of

‘activities’ and not of ‘employment’. The ETUC would prefer to see the

objective of allowing the placement of everyone in a quality job, in other

words one that was not precarious, and one that generated an income

allowing them to live a decent life with social rights, rather than talking about

‘activity’ or ‘occupation’.

Similarly, reference was made to ‘minimum incomes’: the ETUC, for its part,

would prefer to say ‘decent’ incomes, to use the ILO 24 terminology.

Moreover, the ETUC insisted that the measures adopted should be targeted if

they were to be effective. In fact there were no ‘poor’, no ‘excluded’, but there

were men and women, retired people or young homeless people, lacking

sufficient resources, disabled and unemployed people … The purpose of the

mobilisation should be to provide everyone with a response suited to their

situation.

The ETUC also laid heavy stress on the ‘quality’ criterion: the quality of the

jobs proposed, the quality of the services provided, etc…

Finally, it wound up its contribution by flagging the need to ‘work together’, in

other words with the people concerned by poverty and exclusion, obviously,

but also with the organisations intervening in these areas, by developing

synergies and cooperation in the framework of their respective skills. To put it

24 International Labour Organization

3


another way, everyone did not have to do everything, but it was important to

capitalise on the differences in order to capture the full richness.

4.4 Joint ETUC/European Disability Forum seminar: access

to employment and training for disabled people (Lisbon,

26-28 October 2007)

The ETUC and the European Disability Forum held a joint seminar in Lisbon

over the last weekend in October, focusing on access to employment and

training for disabled people. This meeting, at which there was also an

intervention from Ms Idália MONIZ, Secretary of State in the Portuguese

government with responsibility for disability issues, featured a wealth of

reports and exchanges, notably on the national instances of cooperation

developing between the trade union organisations and the disability

associations in a bid to promote and improve the placement of disabled

people in employment.

A common statement was debated and adopted 25 at the end of the seminar,

in which in particular the two organisations pledged to pursue their

cooperation at all appropriate levels.

4.5 International and European Disability Days (December

2007)

As part of the events marking international disability year, the ETUC was

invited to participate in two demonstrations.

The first took place on 3 December in Geneva, at the headquarters of the

International Labour Organization (ILO), at the initiative of that

organisation. The theme was ‘the right to decent work for disabled people’.

In his speech the ETUC representative, drawing in part on the reflections and

experiences exchanged at the joint ETUC/European Disability Forum seminar

in Lisbon in October, recalled that the prime ambition of the trade union

movement was, as far as possible, to successfully get disabled people into

the ordinary working environment, something which dovetailed perfectly with

the prospects of the ILO and the day: the right to decent work. He likewise

emphasised – drawing on examples of agreements concluded – the crucial

role of the social dialogue in achieving these objectives.

The second demonstration in which the ETUC participated was held in

Brussels on 5 and 6 December, at the initiative of the Commission, on

the European Day of Disabled People.

Speaking on the final panel of this demonstration, which secured firm support

from the Portuguese Secretary of State in charge of disability issues,

rounding off the demonstration, the ETUC first recalled its priority of getting

disabled people into the ordinary working environment. However, it also

focused on the fact that a disabled person was not just an effective or

potential worker, but first and foremost a human being with ‘rights’ and not

just ‘assistance’, albeit social! And the first of these rights was to have access

to services, and to all services, including quality health and social services.

25 See the ETUC site: Social policies, heading ‘Disability’

3


And the ETUC urged the rapid adoption of a legal instrument to safeguard

these services and back them in their social missions.

In conclusion, it once again called for a specific directive for disabled people.

4.6 Council of Europe, task force on social cohesion: ETUC

contribution

Following the 3 rd Summit of Heads of State of the 47 countries making up the

Council of Europe, held in Warsaw on 16 and 17 May 2005, a high-level task

force was set up to adapt the social cohesion strategy to the challenges of the

21 st century, specifically the challenge of an ageing population, but also the

challenges posed by economic and social developments.

This task force had drafted a report on this subject, to which the ETUC was

reacting.

In its observations, the ETUC, while first welcoming the fact that the task

force had placed so much attention on the importance of social cohesion,

notably in an environment dominated so much by the laws and the

importance of the ‘market’, did feel, itself, that the search for social cohesion

was something that formed a key part of the European social model, hence

the importance that it attached to it.

Moreover, the ETUC stressed the interest presented by the report when it

focused on ‘societal well-being’ and ‘the idea that harmonious and stable

social relations are an integral part of social progress and peaceful

coexistence’. It recalled that this was what it was striving to achieve itself in

the framework of the social dialogue, notably at European level, and the

signature of collective agreements designed to take account of the interests

of workers and those of businesses alike.

Similarly, the ETUC, without reducing matters just to this one dimension,

considered that full and complete participation in economic life was an

important factor promoting cohesion, because it avoided social exclusion.

Conversely, as the draft report stated, ‘all behaviour and practices serving to

exclude individuals from the labour market constitute a threat to social

cohesion’.

It was equally convinced – and these elements should be particularly

highlighted – that:

- social cohesion also involved mechanisms of ‘redistribution to the least

well off’ and that this should not be just a matter for private initiative or

the NGOs alone, but it was in fact initially the essential responsibility of

the State;

- there was no effective social cohesion without ‘genuine social rights’

(access to housing, culture, education, health, transport, etc…) and the

affirmation of these rights needed to be accompanied, as the revised

European Social Charter put it, by ‘a right to protection against poverty

and social exclusion’.

Finally, the ETUC confirmed its agreement to the definition of the priorities

and their implementation, including the thrusts adopted with regard to

migration policy.

It did, however, wonder about the ability to get these taken into account by

the Member States in view of the diversity of sensitivities among the Member

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States on this subject, and the decision-making powers of the Council of

Europe, which in fact were relatively weak, but above all because it generally

tended to opt for a ‘softly, softly’ approach.

Finally, the ETUC shared its divergences regarding certain analyses and

approaches, such as the ones

- on health and its evolutions, and notably the covering of long-term

care, which was too much limited just to older people, whereas

disability affected young people and adults alike;

- or the approach around demographics, based on UN projections over

… 50 years! – and which were too focused on ‘social spending’;

- or what was said about pensions and their future, notably so-called

‘capitalisation’ retirements, where the ETUC considered the analysis to

be far too simplistic;

- or the proposal put forward to extend the ‘social dialogue’, the ETUC

denouncing the confusion in the terms used and suggesting instead

the term ‘civil’ or ‘civic’ dialogue, as indicated elsewhere in the Report.

Lastly, the ETUC was also disappointed at the virtual absence of recognition

of the specific role played by the social partners in the setting up and

development of social cohesion strategies, notably if it were admitted that

access to employment and decent working conditions were core elements

which might help to maintain social cohesion. This could not be the sole

responsibility of the public administrations and/or the NGOs, even though

there was no question for the ETUC – quite the reverse – of wanting to

minimise or ignore the important role played by both.

Summing up, the ETUC said that this Report contained the definition of

objectives, principles and proposals which it shared, provided that the points

of disagreement which it had flagged were removed and corrected.

However, it did still feel that three question marks remained:

- How to ensure that these priorities were really taken into account in the

different Member States?

- Where was the collective and individual political will at the level of each

Member State to release the resources necessary (financial,

administrative, human, etc…) to ensure that social cohesion was a reality

right across the area covered by the Council of Europe?

- What would be the effectiveness and the scope of a strategy without any

binding evaluation criteria?

It finished up with a proposal framed as a wish: When, at the Council level,

would there be a Court of Justice of Social Rights, in the same way that there

was a Court of Justice of Human Rights?

5. Brief legal information

Judgements handed down

- In a ruling dated 19 April 2007, the European Court of Justice confirmed

its case law, by now firmly established, in terms of reimbursement of

healthcare, namely that a Member State is generally required to pick up

the health costs bill for medical treatment received by its nationals in

another Member State (Stamatelakis case, C-444/05);

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- In a ruling dated 11 July 2007, the Court of First Instance ruled that the

Commission did not have to launch a formal procedure on German aids

to health services (Asklepios Kliniken GmbH case, T-167/04);

- The Court of Justice, in a ruling dated 30 January 2007, held that

Denmark had failed in its obligations by limiting the deduction of

premiums paid to a life insurance and pension provision scheme only if

they were paid to retirement institutions established in Denmark

(Commission case, C-150/04).

Lastly, two cases were underway:

- one dated 6 February 2007, concerning the interpretation of the concept

of direct discrimination as per Directive 2000/43, on equal treatment

irrespective of race or ethnic origin (case C 54/07);

- the other brought by the Commission for the sake of recognising that by

maintaining a different retirement age between male and female civil

servants, Italy was contravening the obligations incumbent upon it in virtue

of Article 141 of the Treaty (case C-46/07).

Henri LOURDELLE

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