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Gaby Umbach, The Council of the EU: Multilevel Switchboard of the New ‘Third Wayism’ Co-ordination Structure – The EES-PCN Going ‘A Little’ Public in:

Gaby Umbach

Intent and Reality of the European Employment Strategy, page 250 - 255

Europeanisation of National Employment Policies and Policy-Making?

1. Edition 2009, ISBN print: 978-3-8329-4128-4, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-1247-0 https://doi.org/10.5771/9783845212470

Series: Studies on the European Union, vol. 1

Bibliographic information
Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 250 4.1.2 The Council of the EU: Multilevel Switchboard of the New ‘Third Wayism’ Co-ordination Structure – The EES-PCN Going ‘A Little’ Public The Council of the EU is the main supranational arena for intergovernmental exchange and consultation as well as negotiation on employment policy co-ordination within the Luxembourg process. Since 2000, the main Council formation dealing with the EES and leading the process is the EPSCO Council. Before this date, further complicating the overall procedure, EPSCO and ECOFIN held equal rights within the EES-related co-ordination process (interview D-3). The EPSCO Council’s EES work is supported by the Council secretariat’s ‘Social Policy and Employment’ division. The division comprises seven officials. One of them plus the head of division are responsible for supporting EMCO. EMCO itself provides for the main place for monitoring, peer review, preparation, exchange, and consultation to steer the Luxembourg process and to prepare EPSCO work (interview EU-1, EU- 2). Additionally, the official working on the EES within the ‘Social Policy and Employment’ division is also liaised to the ‘Regional Policy’ division and, therefore, also engaged in regional policies, including the ESF and EES-related aspects (interview EU-1). The Council’s secretariat plans the way ‘things are guided through the system’, co-ordinating also the opinions of other supranational institutions involved (interview EU-1). The EMCO meets every four to eight weeks as a full committee, while the indicators and the ad-hoc groups (cf. below) additionally meet in-between (interview D-2). Yet, despite this clear functional focus and given the ‘Third Wayism’ of the EES merging supranational and intergovernmental structural-procedural elements, the “real nature of the committee, however, is far from clear-cut” (de la Porte/Pochet 2002b:38). While some actors involved perceive the EMCO to be a place of intergovernmental encounter to bargain and balance member states’ interests, others, especially Commission officials, consider it to be an overall facilitator of the supranational political process (ibid.). As outlined above (cf. chapter 3.1.2.3), the EMCO reunites national and Commission experts on employment policy at a very high level. It consists of Council members (officials of the member states’ ministries of labour) and the Commission (representatives of DG EMPL; interview EU-1). Following the provisions of Art. 130 TEC, the EMCO was officially established by a Council decision of 2000 (cf. Council of the EU 2000c), replacing the earlier ELMC (cf. chapter 3.1.2.2 and 3.1.2.3) in a path-dependent manner of institutional development (cf. chapter 3.1.1). The composition and working methods of the newly established EMCO did not considerably alter from those of the former ELMC (interview EU-1). Each member state and DG EMPL’s Directorate A (D) delegate two high-ranking officials and appoint two deputies to the EMCO. National representatives are to be “selected from among senior officials or experts possessing outstanding competence in the field of employment and labour market policy in the Member States” (Council of the EU 2000c:Art.2.2). Depending on the topic of consultation or negotiation, the Commission is represented by the Director General of DG EMPL and other DG delegates. Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 251 The general approach is to keep delegations small (interview EU-3). External experts can also be involved in the EMCO’s work, especially in working groups which can be established in order to facilitate the work of the committee (cf. Council of the EU 2000c:Art.4). Two working groups have been set up under the EMCO on the base of Art. 4 of the 2000 Council decision. They integrate external experts if assessed necessary. One working group focuses on indicators and the other on in-depth analysis of technical aspects and the draft JER as a whole (‘ad-hoc group’; interview EU-1, EU-2, D-2). They prepare consultations and decision-making within the EMCO. Both working groups constitute arenas of epistemic communities’ interaction. They, moreover, broaden these communities by the alternating topic-related integration of external experts into a broader EES-related advocacy coalition. The EMCO’s chairperson is elected for two years and assisted by four vicechairpersons (two of other member states; one of the current EU presidency and one of the next EU presidency; cf. ibid.:Art. 3.2). Instead of being located under the Council, the EMCO secretariat is officially located under the European Commission with one Commission official of Directorate A (D) taking the position of the committee’s secretary (interview EU-1). This fact, enshrined in the 2000 Council decision (cf. Council of the EU 2000c:Art. 3.3), underlines the exceptional position of the EMCO that is falling under the joint authority of the Commission and the Council. This fact, moreover, proves a structural-procedural re-shaping of the division of powers between EU institutions and member states accompanied by an interinstitutional administrative interlinkage within the newly set up EES-PCN, indicating at a new integrated approach under the EES/OMC (cf. Jacobsson/Vifell 2002:8). Besides general support and preparation of work for the EPSCO, EMCO’s main tasks are to • monitor the employment situation and policies of the EU member states; • facilitate and promote exchange of information and best practice; • formulate opinions at the request of the Council, the Commission or on its own initiative; • co-ordinate the co-operation of the different Council formations and advisory committees (EPSCO, ECOFIN, EYC; EPC, EFC, SPC; cf. European Commission 2006d); and • participate within the supranational macro-economic dialogue (cf. Council of the EU 2000c:§5 and Art.1). By doing so, it “should contribute to ensuring that the European Employment Strategy, macroeconomic policy coordination and the process of economic reform are formulated and implemented in a consistent and mutually supportive way” (ibid.:§3). In this context, EMCO’s work is closely interlinked with the EPC, EFC, and SPC in order to provide for overall socio-economic policy coherence especially between the BEPG and the EES (interview EU-1, D-3). With these tasks, EMCO performs a ‘switchboard function’ to connect the different socio-economic processes and their institutions to the EES and to feed its priorities into the former. Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 252 The EMCO holds direct contacts with the social partners for whom it offers the main formal point of access to the supranational employment policy co-ordination cycle. After the preparatory phase, it opens the Luxembourg process towards, yet, a rather limited circle of civil society actors. Regular contacts to the SCE/Tripartite Social Summit, as foreseen by the 2000 Council decision (cf. ibid.:Art.5), are part of EMCO’s efforts to integrate social partners interests and preferences into the employment policy co-ordination process. At the EMCO stage of the process, member states, for the first time, get a taste of each others’ employment policy performance and reforms when the official peer review of the NAPs is undertaken (interview EU-3). Each member states’ NAP is reviewed by two other member states chosen in a ‘lottery-like’ procedure, in which reviewer-countries are selected by chance (interview EU-1, EU-3). The member states evaluate the given NAPs, focusing on the particular member states’ strengths and weaknesses over the past period as well as on interesting aspects of domestic approaches to learn more about (interview EU-3). This procedure has, yet, been perceived to not be an arena for horizontal criticism and in-depth scrutiny among member states given that fear of reciprocally harsh evaluation hampers open confrontation of national failures and shortcomings. So, given that the member states have the tendency to be ‘far too nice’ with each other, EMCO does not really provide for room for real ‘naming, blaming and shaming’ according to officials interviewed. This peer review process is, thus, assessed to not be adequately exploited (ibid.). With the peer review process and the discussion of the draft JER, the Council initiates the official intergovernmental consultation and negotiation phase on a coordinated joint report between the Council and the Commission. At this stage of the process, it replaces the Commission as the central (supranational) institution (ibid.). Yet, except for a short period at the start of the EES that led towards rather unproductive outcomes, no country-specific problems were negotiated within the EMCO plenum (interview D-2). In light of the extensive bilateral pre-negotiations between the Commission and the member states–again underlining the important role of the Commission during the preparatory stage of the JER–this early EMCO practice had been abolished already soon after the inception of the EES (interview EU-1). The main focus of attention of the six-week consultation and negotiation phase within the Council is laid on the discussion of the more general parts of the draft JER, dealing with the overall employment situation in Europe (interview D-2, EU- 3). Within the Council’s work, national perceptions, traditions, paradigms, and approaches, ranging from the liberal to the social pole, also shine through (interview EU-1). In case of conflicts between Commission proposals and Council priorities, member states seek to succeed just like under the classical community method. In the past, during negotiations on the amendment of qualitative ones, conflicts especially arose on the EES’s set of indicators, when, for example, the Commission in 2002 inter alia proposed to introduce the frequency of walk-outs (strike days/year) as a new qualitative indicators (interview D-2, EU-1, EU-3). Due to huge national differ- Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 253 ence in the rationale for walk-outs across EU member states–more politically motivated strikes in Mediterranean countries vs. economically motivated walk-outs in member states with the tradition of the right to free collective bargaining–this particular indicator was assessed by the member states (especially by Germany) to not adequately measure the quality of work aspect it was targeting at and, hence, to not offer a reliable source for comparison among member states. As a result, the Commission proposal was withdrawn from negotiations in order to be modified (ibid.). Yet, apart from such concrete work on details, real negotiations including voting, are rather rare within EMCO and the Council (ibid.). As outcome of this Council negotiation stage, the JER and the recommendations– after being fine-tuned again by the Commission–are agreed and released to the member states as well as transmitted to the other Council committees (EPC, EFC, SPC) for further deliberation (interview D-3, EU-1, EU-3). During the first phase of the EES, this happened in early November (until 2002, it in practice, yet, happened rather irregularly within a period from October to February each year; cf. table 25). On the basis of the documents submitted, the EPC formulates its opinion on the macro-economic situation, the BEPG, and their relation to the EGs, linking the different processes (interview EU-1). The joint opinion of the two committees, sometimes established after rather tough consultations (interview D-3), forms the basis for the Council’s further decision-making process. Given the formal link between the EES and the BEPG, at this stage of the co-ordination process also ECOFIN and the EFC enter the arena. These relations between the EMCO and the EFC were also used to prepare the streamlining of the EES and the BEPG in 2003, while SPC was not intensively involved in this reform process. Following the internal co-ordination stage between the different committees, the Council feeds in the opinions of the EP, ECOSOC and the CoR as well as the Commission amendments. It then takes the final EMCO opinion as the basis for its final decision on the JER to be presented since 2003 to the Spring European Council. At the beginning of the EES, a so called ‘Jumbo Council’, merging the EPSCO and the ECOFIN Council following a real integrated socio-economic co-ordination approach, terminated the procedure of parallel consultations in early December by the joint adoption of the guidelines. Given the large amount of preparatory work and consultation within the Council, this rather unproductive ‘Jumbo Council’ procedure was, yet, abolished under the French presidency in 2000 (interview EU-1). In view of its rather tight timetable, EMCO, from 1997 to 2002, worked under the same time pressures as the Commission and the other EU institutions (interview EU- 1). This timetable imposed a slot of only some three months from mid-September to December to agree on the evaluation of the NAPs and the recommendations as well as on the JER and the EGs (interview D-3, EU-1). This preparatory phase included not only the evaluation of the NAPs by the EMCO, the EPC, and the Education Committee. It also comprised negotiations within the Council and feed-back contacts with the Commission on the JER, the recommendations, and the EGs. Furthermore, during this three month slot, the opinion of the EP, the CoR and the ECOSOC had to be examined and taken into account (interview EU-1). Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 254 The above procedure changed significantly with the streamlining of the EES and the BEPG in 2003 (cf. chapter 3.2.3.2). Concerning the work of the EPSCO Council and the EMCO, the synchronisation even tightened the timetable, while, at the same time, it provided for stronger correspondence between the co-ordination of the EES and the BEPG. Functions and tasks of EMCO did not change with these structural reforms (cf. Employment Committee 2003). As assessed by EU officials already in 2002, the 2003 reform also carried the potential to bring relieve in view of better coordination, synchronising and streamlining reporting cycles of the EES, the BEPG and the IMS (interview EU-1). It structurally facilitated co-ordination of the different steps of the employment package by splitting it into an implementation and a guidelines package, providing for a clearer procedural division between the two elements. The additional installation of a three-year instead of the former annual cycle to review the EGs added to this structural-procedural relieve (cf. chapter 3.2.3.2.1) and provided room for employment policy reforms to impact (interview EU-1). Moreover, the streamlining was perceived by some actors to give EPSCO additional power to impact on labour market policies (interview D-1, D-3). Regardless of their initially secondary rank as supportive to the latter, it was also assessed to slightly revalorise labour market policies, giving them an equal rank compared to employment policies. Actors involved assumed that the EES, by being streamlined with the BEPG, might lose relevance and content by stepping back behind the BEPG (interview D-2, EU-2, EU-3). Additionally, the streamlining was perceived to rather unlikely create a real integrated approach to socio-economic policy co-ordination as foreseen by the Lisbon strategy. It was not assessed to put the ministers of employment and social affairs as well as the finance ministers on an equal footing, continuing to place the former at a disadvantage in terms of policy priorities (interview D- 1). The 2005 reform, with its further integrated approach towards a single Lisbon Action Programme, brought about additional structural-procedural concentration by merging socio-economic policy co-ordination into one single document and cycle. The guidelines were welded into one single package. Reporting is again relaxed as member states are obliged to ‘only’ prepare one single national action programme for growth and jobs (cf. chapter 3.2.3.4). In view to the work of the Council and the EMCO, one EU official acknowledged that socio-economic policy co-ordination between the different Council formations, just like in case of the two leading Commission DG’s, is often characterised by tensions between the two main underlying policy ideas and camps of actors promoting the different paradigms (interview EU-1, EU-3). Adding to these tensions and procedural time lags, was assessed to be the fact, that during the first phase of the EES, no EPSCO Council took place to provide input into the key issues paper on the BEPG within the period between the release of the EGs in December and the adoption of the BEPG in spring. As then decided by the presidency, the EMCO was entitled to adopt an opinion during its January meeting on the basis of the agreement reached on the EGs by EPSCO in December. ‘Blessed’ by the Chairman of ECOFIN, this opinion was fed through COREPER into ECOFIN in order to deliver Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 255 the necessary input into the key issues paper. Alternatively, input was given by EP- SCO through the parallel adoption of the EGs and their ex post input into the BEPG in December without real ex ante knowledge of the BEPG (interview EU-1). So, by streamlining and welding the EES with the BEPG at least one of the core structural-procedural problems of the Council’s work during the first phase of the EES seemed to have been solved. As of 2003, the two Council formations meet in parallel, adopting conclusions on the basis of the opinions of their respective committees and taking into account the counterparts’ opinion more closely. 4.1.3 The ‘Others’: The European Council, EP, ECOSOC, and CoR – The Eagle of Processes and the Mere ‘Also-Rans’? As earlier within the development of the supranational field of employment policy, the European Council paved the way for the inception of the EES and its constitutionalisation (cf. chapter 3.1). After the strategy’s integration into the treaties, the European Council repeatedly engaged in its further development and connection with other policy fields and co-ordination processes. With a view to the Luxembourg process, the European Council initiates the co-ordination cycle by agreeing on the EGs, which form the basis for the NAPs. Hence, the process starts of with the decision of the heads of state and government within the European Council, performing not only the function of the eagle of socio-economic policy co-ordination within the EU, but also that of the formal ‘initiator’ of the monitoring and reporting cycle under the EES. The first phase of the EES was characterised by an overall low level of parliamentarisation, reducing the European Parliament nearly to a mere also-ran of the Luxembourg process. According to the Art. 128 TEC, the EP, like ECOSOC and the CoR, is heard during the definition of the EGs. Its comments are to be taken into account when the European Commission adopts an amended proposal on the EGs. Furthermore, the Council consults the EP on the proposed decision on the EGs. For the exertion of its treaty-based competences, the EP’s procedures and deadlines– caused by the short period for the consultation within the Luxembourg process– were, however, rather poorly adapted to the time pressure of the annual cycle (interview EU-1). Given this shortcoming, the EP can be assessed to have been somehow marginalised, rather excluded from influencing the EES (ibid.) and bemoaning also the low degree of transparency of the process. Especially the 2004 report of the High Level Group criticised this low level of parliamentarisation, nurturing the missing visibility of the strategy and pleaded for a stronger involvement of national parliaments and a more proactive role of the EP (cf. chapter 3.2.3.3). Given the proximity of views and approaches on employment policies of the two supranational institutions, the Commission was rather sympathetic to these proposals (interview EU-3). The critique of the Kok report fed into the 2005 reform and merger of the two main socio-economic policy co-ordination processes, initiating a stronger parliamentarisation of the welded socio-economic policy co-ordination process.

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Zusammenfassung

Mit ihren spezifischen Merkmalen als neues Politikinstrument – wie etwa ihrem rechtlich nicht bindenden Charakter, dem Ziel des gegenseitigen Politiklernens durch Austausch bester Praktiken oder gemeinsamen Evaluierungsprozessen – stellt die Europäische Beschäftigungsstrategie (EBS) und die mit ihr Anwendung findende Offene Methode der Koordinierung (OMK) beschäftigungspolitische Akteure in der EU vor die neuen Herausforderungen von Politik-Koordinierung, die die Politikgestaltung im europäischen Mehrebenensystem neu prägen.

Das vorliegende Buch beschäftigt sich intensiv mit diesen unterschiedlichen Facetten der EBS und ihrer Wirkung. Es geht dabei über bisherige Einzelstudien zur EBS hinaus und befasst sich nicht nur mit deren Entstehung, Entwicklung und Merkmalen. Es kontrastiert vielmehr den eigenen Anspruch der EBS mit ihrer politischen Realität und untersucht theoretisch hoch reflektiert deren Einfluss auf Politik-Koordinierungsstrukturen, Beschäftigungspolitiken und zugrunde liegenden Ideen sowie deren Zusammenspiel mit anderen wirtschaftspolitischen Bereichen. Neben der EU-Ebene dienen Großbritannien und Deutschland als Fallbeispiele für mitgliedstaatliche Anpassungsprozesse. Das Buch verankert seine Wirkungsanalyse sehr fundiert in der wissenschaftstheoretischen Debatte um Europäisierung und Politikkonvergenz, um deren Anwendbarkeit im Falle der EBS kritisch zu analysieren. Es komplettiert damit Europäisierungsstudien zu regulativer Politik durch die Analyse des Einflusses weicher Politik-Koordinierung im europäischen Mehrebenensystem.