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The Council held a policy debate (6265/17) on the European Semester 2017. Focusing on the implementation of the country-specific recommendations, it discussed how to enhance labour market access and reduce divergences across the EU.

Ministers highlighted that the employment and social situation in the EU is slowly improving. Towards the end of 2016, the EU registered the lowest unemployment rates since 2009. Similarly, youth and long-term unemployment rates are decreasing.At the same time, these positive trends are not uniform throughout the Union. In certain regions, unemployment levels continue to be high. Furthermore, the number of people at risk of poverty is still concerning, despite recent signs of improvement.

In these past years, the EU has faced a multitude of challenges which did not affect all member states in the same way. The member states have strived to implement policies that would address structural weaknesses. In this respect, the implementation of country-specific recommendations is of paramount importance. Slowly, the EU is achieving progress. It is key to continue and multiply these efforts to achieve economically sustainable and socially inclusive growth throughout the Union.

The Council adopted conclusions 6885/17 on the 2017 annual growth survey and joint employment report, dealing with priorities for action in the areas of employment and social policies.

It adopted the joint employment report (6267/17). The report provides an annual overview of key employment and social developments in Europe as well as member states' reform actions.

The Commission presented to the Council an overview of the 2017 country reports (6318/17).

Coordination of social security systems

The Council held an orientation debate on an amended regulation on the coordination of social security systems, on the basis of a presidency note (6269/17).The debate was meant to give political orientation from the outset since the work at the relevant Council working party has recently started.

The presidency summarized the debate as follows: the revision of the directive is important and needed. There is will, interest and mutual cooperation amongst ministers to get progress on this dossier.

Ministers highlighted the importance of proper codification of case law, of more simplification and clarity of rules, of legal certainty as well as transparency. From today's debate, it also emerged that there is a lack of agreement on diverse elements and issues such as the extension of unemployment benefits. Indexation is a major contentious issue whereby there are currently diverging and contrasting views. It is clear that there are various elements related to equal treatment and posting of workers that need to be further clarified. The Maltese presidency reaffirmed its commitment towards the negotiations for this proposal. More work needs to be done as well as compromises need to be reached in the way ahead.

The new regulation

The new proposal (15642/16), presented in December 2016, is due to update and modernize provisions for the coordination of European social security systems. It will increase legal clarity, establish fair and equitable burden sharing as well as improve enforcement through simpler administrative rules. In particular, the proposal focuses on access to social benefits in four areas:

  • unemployment benefits,
  • long-term care benefits,
  • economically inactive mobile citizens and
  • family benefits.

The Commission also proposes strengthening the administrative rules on social security coordination for posted workers and giving member states authorities better tools to address potentially unfair practices or abuse.

Tripartite Social Summit (TSS)

The EPSCO Council was informed of the preparations of the TSS to be held on 8 March. The main theme of the summit is "The future of Europe: charting the course towards growth, employment and fairness". The three subthemes are covering the following issues (i) making work pay as a way to promote employment and social inclusion; (ii) new forms of work and the future of industry; and (iii) the European Pillar of Social Rights and the role of the social partners.

Enhancing the skills of women and men

The Council adopted conclusions (6889/17) on enhancing the skills of women and men in the EU labour market. The conclusions highlight the importance of enhancing skills as a means of supporting the labour market participation of women and men. The conclusions are based on a research note (6268/17 ADD1) from the European Institute for gender equality.