To bolster social cohesion, ETUC wants an ambitious and efficient OMC applied to social protection and social inclusion

Brussels, 14-15 March 2006

1.1 According to ETUC, bolstering social cohesion and devising 'content' for the European Social Model, which consists mainly of high-quality, high-level social protection systems and a resolute battle against social exclusion, are European ambitions that need to be implemented by the Member States in connection with the streamlined open method of coordination. These ambitions will be reaffirmed at the forthcoming Spring Summit.

1.2 With a view to the summit, which should lead to the taking of concrete social policy decisions, on 22 December 2005 the European Commission [[]] a Communication entitled Working together, working better: A new framework for the open coordination of social protection and inclusion policies in the European Union.

1.3. The Communication details the proposal devised at the informal Employment Council held in Varèse on 10 July 2003 on creating a streamlined framework for the various processes relating to OMCs for inclusion, pensions and long-term healthcare, which became the 'Open method of coordination on social protection and social inclusion' (OMC SPSI). One of the objectives of streamlining is to encourage and improve exchanges between the Member States within the context of the OMC.

1.4. In a letter dated 16 September 2003, ETUC, together with the other European social partners, informed the Chairman of the Social Protection Committee, who was consulting them, that in principle it agreed with streamlining, in that it can contribute towards the implementation of more closely integrated policies that complement and reinforce each other.

1.5 At the same time, ETUC and its partners emphasised that streamlining should also be pursued in such a way that existing processes do not lose their identity or visibility.

1.6 At that time, even back then, the social partners had already voiced a number of concerns and fears:
- That grouping various processes would jeopardise the dynamic development underlying each of them at Member State level;
- that the definition of general common objectives could not take sufficient account of specific challenges thrown down in terms of the three processes and involving different actors and groups;
- that the absence of a clear definition of the role played by the actors involved, specifically the social partners, would not improve either their involvement or the consultation needed to implement and achieve the goals set.

2. With respect to the additional information provided in the aforementioned Communication on the Commission's proposals with a view to the Spring Summit, ETUC is of the opinion that such fears are nowhere near being assuaged. This view has prompted ETUC to submit to the Council four strategic demands which it feels are crucial for ensuring the success of the streamlining process and guaranteeing the full relevance of the OMC with a view to achieving the social objectives set out in Lisbon in 2000, namely:
- reinforcement of the process,
- addition of specific objectives for each domain,
- elaboration of both quantitative and qualitative indicators,
- a stronger involvement of the key players, especially Trade Unions.

2.1. Indeed, ETUC believes that whereas growth and competitiveness are key factors for development, they are not ends in themselves, simply means for developing more, higher quality jobs.

2.2 However, ETUC highlights and condemns a contradiction within the European Union: for on the one hand there is rhetoric about social justice and high-quality jobs, and on the other European officials are allowing the Member States to develop policies that encourage precarious jobs and lead to poverty and social exclusion.

2.3 ETUC intends to take action against such practices in a bid to safeguard and enhance the welfare of European citizens and develop social cohesion.

3. This is why ETUC's first demand is to bolster the OMC process itself in the context of streamlining.

3.1. For ETUC, bolstering the OMC process does not mean embarking on a procedural approach, but rather entails giving the process genuine content and being able to derive all the benefits of this mode of European cooperation and coordination in various areas of social protection (healthcare, pensions) and also in the struggle against poverty and social exclusion.

3.2 That is why, as already asserted in its previous resolutions, ETUC supports an OMC that cannot be reduced to a mere framework for close cooperation on social protection based on exchanging experience, learning from each other and benchmarking performance in an attempt to identify best practices, even though there are always lessons to be learned from exchanges between Member States.

3.3. After all, in ETUC's view, such an approach would be too weak and ineffective, bearing in mind the challenges to be faced, both as regards the fight against social exclusion and in terms of the future and quality of pension systems and long-term healthcare systems.

3.4. In these domains, ETUC wants to see the adoption at European level of bold objectives on social improvement and a schedule for their attainment, involving all the stakeholders and especially trade union organisations, plus an evaluation system.

3.5. This will also mean that strategic National Action Plans (NAPs) cannot be reduced to mere activity reports, but must be genuine action programmes geared towards the realisation of pre-set objectives. Their assessment by the Social Protection Committee and the Commission based on qualitative and quantitative indicators should enable future guidelines or recommendations to be mapped out. ETUC believes it is crucial that such coordination results in upward convergence, and consequently in an improvement of the social policies.

3.6 In short, the 'streamlining' process must pave the way for the consolidation of all the various existing OMCs, by anchoring them more firmly in national policies and also to make the social objectives more visible and more important within the Lisbon Strategy.

4. Cross-cutting objectives, complemented by specific objectives in each domain, a second demand.

4.1. ETUC agrees to having a limited number of cross-cutting objectives.

4.2 However, it also insists that streamlining be effected in such a way as not to undermine the identity and visibility of existing processes. Accordingly, any such general cross-cutting objectives must be complemented by more specific objectives fleshed out and implemented at national level in line with the respective situation there.

4.3 In addition, ETUC wonders how appropriate it is today to change the existing objectives, especially those concerning social inclusion and the fight against poverty, before they have been fully evaluated.

4.4 On the other hand, sticking with the general objectives will not lead to the definition of indicators that are specific enough to enable a judicious evaluation of their implementation. This holds true for both social inclusion and pensions, as well as long-term healthcare.

4.4.1. This is why ETUC is taking steps together with its partners within the framework of this streamlined OMC to pinpoint objectives that are both precise and ambitious in the long-term healthcare sector.
5. Defining both quantitative and qualitative indicators, third demand.}}

5.1 The definition of specific objectives will determine the aptness of the indicators to be adopted, in other words the capability of having effective instruments at our disposal to ascertain what progress has been made.

5.2 The establishment of these indicators, which will involve all the stakeholders, will serve as:
- An incentive for all the Member States to attain the objectives set within the framework of the OMC for Social Protection and Social Inclusion; and
- open up the way for an objective evaluation of the results achieved at national level.

5.3 Streamlining must serve as a strong impetus to the Member States, the European Commission and the other institutions of the Union. However, such impetus will be all the more decisive if it goes hand in hand with evaluation processes that are both qualitative and quantitative.

6 Finally, a fourth demand: Better ways of involving the stakeholders, and trade union organisations in particular, at both national and European level

6.1. ETUC believes that the streamlined OMC can only really take root and bear fruit if all the parties concerned are involved in its development, practical application and evaluation.

6.2. ETUC also believes it is important to make sure that the various partners are given a role in the process. After all, both trade union organisations and specific associations are familiar with the problems encountered on the ground, and it is essential that their expertise be integrated into the development of the strategy.

6.3 A prerequisite for this is that the requisite, appropriate coordination structures be established at both national and European level, so that European policy on social protection and social inclusion becomes more functional, more visible and more transparent.

7 Making headway in the construction of a Social Europe

7.1. ETUC maintains that displaying resolute political will in these domains and establishing strong partnerships will be decisive - and currently indispensable - factors for lending credibility to European policies and making headway in the construction of a truly social Europe that gives all its citizens more confidence in Europe.

7.2. Moreover, this streamlining exercise, which ETUC supports, must shore up the 'social dimension' of the European Union - born of solidly guaranteed social rights and better social cohesion - to which not only the citizens of the Member States aspire, but also the citizens of accession countries or candidate Member States.