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European Employment Strategy - historic overwiew and five-year assessment

Referat (Ausarbeitung) 2004 10 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Thema: Europäische Union




1. Historical overview
1.1. The origins of the EES
1.2. The advanced EES

2. Strengths and weaknesses of the European Employment Strategy

3. Strengths and weaknesses of the Open Method of Co-operation

4. Conclusion



This paper seeks to provide an introduction of the European Employment Strategy (EES), its role in the European Union, with a special focus on assessing the EES after five years being in practice. A short historical overview will be followed by an assessment of the strenghts and weaknesses of the EES. Finally the open method of coordination (OMC) as a key feature of the EES will be discussed concerning its strengths and weaknesses.

1. Historical overview

1.1. The origins of the EES

The idea of a co-ordinated European approach to employment was initiated by the former EU (European Union) Commission´s President Delors´”White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment” in 1993. It marked a turning point in the field of employment policy, that had ever since been a national task supported solely by elements of intergovernmental cooperation that were mainly promoted by the European Commission.

The next important stage concerning an employment policy co-ordination at European level was the European Council in Essen, Germany, in 1994. There it was agreed on five key objectives, also called the "Essen Strategy" , to be pursued by the Member States. These were: the development of human resources through vocational training, the promotion of productive investments through moderate wages policies, the improvement of the efficiency of labour market institutions, the identification of new sources of jobs through local initiatives, and the promotion of access to the world of work for some specific target groups such as young people, long-term unemployed people and women[1].

Even though the Essen Strategy manifested a higher degree of political commitment to the issue of employment by the Member States, it lacked a clear legal base, a strong permanent structure and a long-term vision.

A breakthrough in this direction was achieved by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, that inserted a new Title on Employment in the Treaty of the European Communities (TEC), namely Art. 125-130 TEC, underlining a high level of employment as one of the key objectives of the European Union, being equally important as the macroeconomic objectives of growth and stability. Based on a Swedish initative the new Title stressed the need of an activist policy and the exchange of goals and procedures among the Member States concerning employment policy[2] . In the light of preparing a European Monetary Union, the Member States had to realize that traditional employment creation policies as the adjustment of national interest rates had become obsolete. It became clear that the way labour market measures are implemented in one country inevitably change the parameters of other Member States' labour market policy and thus need to be coordinated at Community level[3].

While the new Treaty provisions maintained the Member States´ competence for employment policy, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission were endowed with a stronger role and more forceful tools, for example a framework for a country surveillance procedure (Art. 128 TEC), comparable to the strategy used during the preparation of the European Monetary Union: Member States' employment policies were supposed to be examined through an annual Joint Employment Report established by the Commission and the Council. Furthermore, the Commission should propose and the Council should adopt by qualified majority vote annual Employment Guidelines for the Member States, which target should be aligned on the best performing countries (benchmarking). Based on these guidelines Member States would develop National Action Plans for Employment and annually report their implementation to the Commission and the Council[4]. Finally the Commission would propose and the Council adopt Recommendations to individual Member States[5].

Yet all these measures did not legally bind the Member States. That is why some political scientists have criticized this compromise as being on the lowest common denominator and an exercise in symbolic politics[6]. For instance Leibfried and Pierson argue that the EES does not provide any fiscal instruments beyond the European Social Fund, contrary to the economic and monetary union. Therefore it cannot be regarded as a genuine EU employment policy but rather as a co-ordination of national employment initiatives[7].

Others, like Scharpf, realize the potential of the new provisions:

“[…] By creating the organizational and procedural conditions for monitoring and evaluation, the Amsterdam Treaty may, for the first time, provide some safeguards against the temptation of all countries to protect domestic jobs through […] competitive deregulation and tax cuts.”[8]

Furthermore Scharpf views the commitment to compare and evaluate national policies, sharing information about best practices and promote innovative approaches as a fruitful basis to explore employment policy options detached from the immediate political pressure of national politics. In his opinion the explicit postulation of an employment goal may have benefical effects against the dominant neoliberal interpretations that the Community should be strictly limited to protect the four freedoms of the internal market and undistorted market competition[9]. This view is shared by Goetschy who argues that the EES can be seen as a counterbalance to insufficient macroeconomic coordination and insufficient social inte-gration[10]. Leibfried and Pierson underpin this argument with a neofunctionalist explanation:

“While there have been extensive barriers to any true federalization of European social policy, the economic and institutional dynamics of creating a single market, have it increasingly difficult to exclude social issues from the EU´s agenda, [...] a result of spill-overs from the single market initiative.”[11]

1.2. The advanced EES

As by the mid-1990s many Member states faced high levels of unemployment, the EES, in any case seemed a promising solution to the EU leaders[12]. They did not even wait for the Amsterdam Treaty to be ratified, but launched the EES right away at the Luxembourg Jobs Summit in November 1997. The EES consisted of around 20 guidelines distributed over four pillars, which were in fact a reforrmulation of the “Essen Strategy”: 1. improving employability, 2. entrepreneurship and job creation, 3. adaptability of employees and businesses and 4. equal opportunities policies for men and women[13].


[1] European Commission: European Employment Strategy – Origins

[2] Stephan Leibfried/ Paul Pierson: Social Policy. Left to Courts and Markets? In: Wallace, Helen/Wallace, William: Policy Making in the European Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 273.

[3] Janine Goetschy: The future of the European Employment Strategy. In: Mückenberger, Ulrich (ed.): Manifesto Social Europe. Brussels: ETUI, 2001, p.152.

[4] European Commission: National Action Plans on Employment 2002.

[5] European Commission: European Employment Strategy – Origins

[6] Achim Wolter/ Rolf Hasse: Gemeinsame Beschäftigungspolitik: überfällig oder überflüssig? Wirtschaftsdienst No. 77. Heidelberg: Springer, 1997, p. 386-389

[7] Leibfried/Pierson: 2000, p. 275.

[8] Fritz W. Scharpf: Governing in Europe: Effective and Democratic? New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 158-159.

[9] Scharpf: 1999, p. 159.

[10] Janine Goetschy: The European Employment Strategy and the open method of coordination: lessons and perspectives. In: Transfer, European Review of Labour and Research, Vol. 9, 2/2003. Antwerp: Keesing Publishers, 2003, p. 283.

[11] Leibfried/Pierson: 2000, p. 268.

[12] James S. Mosher/ David M. Trubek: Alternative Approaches to Governance in the EU: EU Social Policy and the European Employment Strategy. In: Begg, Iain / Peterson, John (ed.): Journal of Common Market Studies 41 (1). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2003, p. 65.

[13] Council: Council Decision of 18.02.2002 on guidelines for the Member States` employment policies for the year 2002, Official Journal of the European Communities 1.3.2002, 2002/177/EC


ISBN (eBook)
369 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Hamburger Universität für Wirtschaft und Politik (ehem. Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Politik) – European Studies
1,75 (A-)
European Employment Strategy Introduction System



Titel: European Employment Strategy - historic overwiew and five-year assessment