Speech by Algimanta Pabedinskienė, Minister of Social Security and Labour, at the European Parliament, Employment and Social Affairs Committee

09 July 2013, Last updated at, 16:40 EEST
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Algimanta Pabedinskienė | author: 15min/Scanpix

Members of the European Parliament, Ms Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to outline Lithuania’s key priorities in the field of employment and social affairs during its Presidency. While acknowledging this very important role of the European Parliament in today’s decision-making processes, representing the interests of 500 million European Union citizens, during the Lithuanian Presidency we will be seeking constructive, productive and mutually beneficial cooperation.

This is the first time ever that Lithuania is assuming the Presidency of the Council. The Presidency of the Council of the EU is both an enormous challenge for our country, and an opportunity to present Lithuania to Europe. During the next six months, our attention will be focused on constructive negotiations with EU institutions and Member States, aiming for the best possible results of the Presidency.

I would like to underline that during its Presidency, Lithuania will seek to ensure a smooth and continuous legislative process, as a fair and impartial intermediary, involving all related partners. We will pursue the objectives of the 18-month Trio (Ireland, Lithuania and Greece) Presidency programme. We will aim at progress in all areas of the EU, by prioritising the most important tasks of the moment: further strengthening the obligations undertaken by the EU towards its citizens to overcome the present economic, financial and social challenges.

Thus, during the Lithuanian Presidency, a special emphasis will be placed on measures designed to restore confidence in the EU’s economy, promote economic growth and employment, improve the single market, ensure financial stability, and strengthen economic and monetary union, which, in our view, should be robust not only economically, but also in social terms. Having assessed the economic situation of the EU and successfully overcome the financial crisis during its Presidency, Lithuania will be focusing on three main objectives: the creation of a credible, growing and open Europe.

During its Presidency, Lithuania will highlight the importance of paying attention to the individual in the ever-growing Europe, by increasing employment opportunities, ensuring the adequate protection of workers’ rights, strengthening the social dimension, and ensuring real gender equality and equal opportunities.

With regard to the priorities of Lithuania’s Presidency, I would first like to mention better employment opportunities, focusing specifically on youth.

Due to a lack of work experience and inadequate qualifications for the needs of the labour market, young people often face bigger obstacles in finding jobs. And with the economic crisis turning into a social crisis, socially vulnerable young people are becoming even more excluded. The number of young people who are not engaged in employment, training or education (called NEETs) is now at eight million (the number has increased by 600,000 in the last three years). The increasingly longer breaks between education and the start of employment, and frequent short-term employment and/or jobless periods, may have a long-term negative impact on employment opportunities and remuneration levels. Long-term unemployment and long stays outside the workforce and the education system may lead to poverty and social exclusion. In addition, this situation may have many other negative consequences, such as isolation, involvement in risky and even criminal activities, unstable psychological and physical health, alienation from democratic processes, and so on.

Therefore, during the Lithuanian Presidency, we will further concentrate on efforts to improve the employability of young people, to become adequately prepared for Youth Guarantees (as of 2014), which have received so much attention from the European Parliament. We will organise discussions with ministers and social partners in order to share our best practice, and to ensure joint actions in this field. An extremely important role in implementing Youth Guarantees is played by the state employment services.

Therefore, we must improve the way they operate, and improve cooperation between states; and we hope that during our Presidency, we will achieve an agreement in the Council and with the Parliament on the Commission’s new proposal which seeks to achieve these objectives.

During our Presidency, we will pay particular attention to apprenticeships, based on the European Apprenticeship Alliance signed at the beginning of this month. We understand the need for encouraging good early professional experience and practical training in the workplace. We also understand that short-term training schemes and professional training with highly qualified and modern apprentice systems (a dual system) can facilitate stable employment. We will draw up the Council’s Declaration on the European Apprenticeship Alliance, whereby we will undertake to seek approval from Member States of the apprenticeship strategy. The joint declaration of intent with regard to the establishment of the European Apprenticeship Alliance between social partners, the Commission, and Lithuania as the presiding Member State, was signed in Leipzig on 2 July 2013.

Lithuania will make every effort to strengthen the social integration of young people, in particular of the NEETs group (not in education, employment or training). According to Eurofound estimates, due to the non-participation of young people, each year the European economy loses 150 billion euros (in social benefits and uncollected taxes). Therefore, within the framework of the Youth Council, we will address the subject of the exclusion of youth, and will seek to adopt the Council’s conclusions analysing the principles proposed to Member States, as well as the means to improve the social inclusion of young NEETs. Among other things, we will refer to the constructive resolutions of the European Parliament, and other opinions on the subject of youth employment.

I would like to close the topic of better employment opportunities by referring to the Proposal on the Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European platform to fight undeclared work, the purpose of which was to improve exchanges in good practice, the identification of undeclared work, and effective operational measures. This proposal is of great importance, and we will make all necessary efforts to obtain common consent at the EPSCO Council this December.

Another important focus area during our Presidency is the better protection of workers (including migrant workers).

I would first like to pay tribute to the previous EPSCO Council for succeeding in reaching a common position towards the all-important European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. Reaching this agreement was not at all easy, because the opinions of Member States differed greatly on some questions. Therefore, it leaves very little room for flexibility. Nevertheless, we understand the urgency, and we are determined to agree with the European Parliament as soon as possible to agree on this Fund, so that it can begin operation from the beginning of 2014.

At the end of April, the Commission presented its proposal aimed at improving the uniform application and implementation of the fundamental right of free movement of workers. EU law enshrines the right of EU citizens to seek employment and work in other EU Member States, and it prohibits discrimination against workers employed in Member States on the basis of nationality. However, in practice, migrant workers encounter direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of their nationality. While holding the Presidency, Lithuania will continue its work on the Posted Workers Directive, which is expected not only to ensure the better protection of workers, but also to improve the provision of services, thus contributing to the recovery of the European economy. We will be seeking agreement in the Council. In addition, we expect to start negotiations with the Parliament. We are very keen to hear your opinions with regard to this draft.

On the subject of the implementation of the Posted Wokers Directive (Posting), I would like to point out that significant progress has been achieved on several positions. However, the main differences remain on Article 9 on the national control measures, and Article 12 on subcontracting. We will make every possible effort to help Member States reach an agreement on these very sensitive questions. We will continue the work of previous states holding the Presidency, and as for the EMPL Committee position of 20 June, we hope to help find a solution in the Council and to begin negotiations with the European Parliament as soon as possible.

As for the health and safety of workers, we will continue our work with regard to the proposal that was first examined by our Irish colleagues concerning the harmonisation of certain workers’ health and safety directives, with amended requirements on the classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals. We expect a constructive approach from both institutions. A great example of effective cooperation on complex technical issues is the agreement reached with regard to the protection of workers from exposure to electro-magnetic waves. We need to analyse the possibilities to follow a similar strategy on this proposal as well.

We also intend to launch a discussion concerning a new Commission proposal on the elimination of exceptions for seafarers in certain labour law directives.

Another area of our Presidency is strengthening the social dimension.

The newly adopted Social Investment Package (SIP) will be one of the priority areas to be analysed. We are following closely the ongoing deliberations on this document. We will place a special emphasis on the conclusions reached at the last EPSCO Council, generally presenting the SIP and encouraging Member States to take implementation action to this end. During our Presidency, we plan to hold discussions between ministers at the informal EPSCO Council on 11-12 July, specifically on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the package.

In strengthening the social dimension, a special role is played by the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived. Although at the EPSCO Council, the Irish did not succeed in reaching a final agreement on this Fund, the progress achieved was quite tangible: the proposal was considered for its merits, and numerous comments were received from Member States and taken into consideration.
The principal outstanding task is to agree on mandatory or voluntary participation in the activities of the Fund, and, of course, its size.

Discussions at the working group of the Council tackling social issues showed a very clear group of Member States considering that reactivating measures primarily designed for preparing people for the labour market, allowing them to earn a living, are best-suited for the elimination of poverty among the most vulnerable groups of the population, and the funds and measures of the European Social Fund are best suited for this purpose. Another group of Member States approves the mandatory participation of all Member States in the activities of the European Aid Fund, in particular those already participating in the implementation of the food support programme, only within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy. They consider that this measure is necessary for the reduction of poverty in Europe. The same opinion is held by a majority in the European Parliament.

It is easily understandable that different views exist as to the best measures to fight poverty, and for European and national measures to this end, as the differences between social policies applied by individual Member States are considerable.

As President, Lithuania fully understands the importance of this Fund to citizens of Member States, and will try to find a solution acceptable to all Member States in the Council as soon as possible, and subsequently also in the European Parliament. This is one of the tasks we intend to pursue without delay.

Speaking about pensions, I would like to mention the Directive on the acquisition and retention of pension rights. This document dates back to 2005, and the Member States have finally reached a common position. In fact, Ireland did a great job during its Presidency, and managed to find an acceptable compromise. Earlier disputes on the legal basis of the Directive, the waiting time to become a member of the pension scheme, and on the periods of acquisition of pension rights, were resolved by consensus. We expect an agreement to be reached with the European Parliament as well, and that together we will be able to welcome the entry into force of this important legal act.

In support of our efforts to strengthen the social dimension of economic and monetary union, we are looking forward to the appearance of the Roadmap document that should provide a guideline for our further actions. We believe that during our Presidency, we will contribute effectively to the deepening and the development of this subject. Economic growth and social cohesion should be processes that complement and strengthen each other, rather than increasing social exclusion, which eventually causes threats to economic and financial stability. A proper balance must be struck between economic measures and social objectives, so that they complement rather than contradict each other. Efforts to strengthen economic and financial management have already been taken at the EU level, and the same must be undertaken in the social sphere.

Another area to which we will be paying particular attention will be ensuring actual equality of rights and equal opportunities for men and women.

During Lithuania’s Presidency, we will concentrate on the objective of equal rights and the preconditions for the more effective implementation of this goal. Effective governance and implementation are necessary in order to solve issues pertaining to the equality of men and women as a horizontal priority in all policy areas, in particular in that of employment.

We have therefore opted for the critical area of institutional mechanisms of the Beijing Platform for Action. The effective functioning of institutional mechanisms is a necessary precondition for gender equality to become a reality, not only in legislation but also in everyday life. The European Gender Equality Pact and the Strategy for Equality between Women and Men, prepared by the European Commission, contain principles of good governance as a necessary condition to implementing the gender equality priorities set out in these documents. As the Member State holding the Presidency, we will make every effort to adopt Council conclusions on the institutional mechanisms at the December meeting of the EPSCO Council.

Further, in support of the objective pursued by the European Commission to improve the representation of women in the area of decision making, we will continue the work started during Ireland’s Presidency, and we will focus on a policy ensuring a better gender balance on company boards. At the EPSCO Council, we will seek a common position with regard to the Directive on gender balance on company boards.

In the area of the equal treatment of people, we will continue the discussions on the scope of the application of the non-discrimination Directive, and will seek a wider consensus within the Council. We will also work with the Council recommendations presented by the European Commission (we are waiting for updates after the approval of the EC on the Council recommendations on 26 June) with regard to the improvement of measures for the integration of the Roma population. The issue of the integration of Roma is now particularly relevant, as Roma account for quite a large proportion of the EU’s population (about six million Roma live in the EU). The effective integration of Roma is important as never before.
This project, which we will give special attention and which we will aim to present to EPSCO, is exactly what is needed for the effective implementation of Roma integration measures in Member States.

Thank you for your attention, and I expect to obtain your support during the coming six months, which will be full of challenges, and a very special six months for Lithuania.

Ms Chairman, I remain at your disposal for any questions you may have, and will wait impatiently for joint discussions, common work, and opportunities to implement our plans.
 

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