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Reducing unemployment: EU policies explained

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The EU aims to have three quarters of people aged 20–64 have jobs by 2020. Find out how the EU works to reduce unemployment and fight poverty.

The economic and financial crisis of 2008 hit the global economy, leading to unemployment increasing in all EU countries.

Although EU labour market conditions and workers’ rights have significantly improved in recent years, the fight against unemployment remains one of the EU’s key challenges on its way towards quality jobs and a socially inclusive Europe.

Efforts have been made in a number of areas, including helping young people enter the labour market, combating long-term unemployment, upgrading skills, and facilitating workers’ mobility in the EU.

EU unemployment rate

Since mid-2013, the EU’s unemployment rate has continued to decline.

In April 2019, it fell to 6.4% (from 7.0% in April 2018), the lowest level since the start of the EU monthly publication of unemployment statistics in January 2000. In the euro zone, the unemployment rate was 7.6% in April 2019, down from 8.4% in April 2018.

EU vs member state competencies

EU countries are still primarily responsibe for employment and social policies. However, the EU complements and coordinates member state actions and promotes the sharing of best practices.

According to article nine of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU should consider the objective of a high level of employment when defining and implementing all of its policies and activities.

European employment strategy and targets

EU countries established a set of common objectives and targets for employment policy to fight unemployment and create more and better jobs in the EU. This policy is also known as the European employment strategy (EES).

Launched in 1997, this employment strategy forms part of the Europe 2020 growth strategy, which gives an overall view of where the EU should be on key parameters by 2020 in different areas such as education and the fight against climate change and is used as a reference framework for activities at EU, national and regional levels.

The goals set for 2020 are: 75% of people aged 20–64 to be in work, while the 116.1 million people (all EU countries apart from the UK) who had been at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2008 should be cut to 96.2 million people.

In 2017, 72.2% of the EU population aged 20-64 were employed, just 2.8 percentage points below the 2020 target.

In 2016, 118.0 million people were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU.

The European Commission monitors and implements the strategy through the European Semester, an annual cycle of coordination of economic and employment policies at EU level.

The social and employment situation in Europe is evaluated in the context of the EU Semester and based on the Employment Guidelines, common priorities and targets for national employment policies. In order to help EU countries move forward, the Commission issues country-specific recommendations, based on their progress towards each goal.

How it is funded

The European Social Fund (ESF) is Europe’s main instrument to ensure fairer job opportunities for everyone living in the EU: workers, young people and all those seeking a job.

The European Parliament proposes to increase funding in the next EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027 with a primary focus on education, employment and social inclusion. The new version of the fund, known as the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), would boost the quality of work, make it easier for people to find work in a different part of the EU, improve education, as well as promoting social inclusion and health.

The Employment and Social Innovation Programme (EaSI) aims to help modernise employment and social policies, improve access to finance for social enterprises or vulnerable people who wish to set up a micro-company and to promote labour mobility via the EURES network. The European Jobs Network facilitates mobility by providing information to employers and jobseekers and also features a database of job vacancies and applications across Europe.

The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) supports workers losing their jobs due to globalisation, as companies may shut down or move their production to non-EU countries, or the economic and financial crisis, in finding new work or setting up their own businesses.

The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) supports member state initiatives to provide food, basic material assistance and social inclusion activities to the most deprived.

The updated version of the ESF+ would merge a number of existing funds and programmes, such as the ESF, the EaSI, the FEAD, the Youth Employment Initiative and the EU health programme, pooling their resources and providing more integrated and targeted support to people.

Fighting youth unemployment

Among the EU measures to combat youth unemployment is the Youth Guarantee, a commitment by member states to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 years receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. The implementation of the Youth Guarantee is supported by EU investment, through the Youth Employment Initiative.

The European Solidarity Corps allows young people to volunteer and work in solidarity-related projects across Europe. The Your first EURES job platform helps young people aged 18 to 35, and interested in gaining professional experience abroad, find a work placement, traineeship or apprenticeship.

Right skills, right job

By promoting and improving skills acquisition, making qualifications more comparable and providing information on the demands for skills and jobs, the EU supports people in finding good-quality jobs and making better career choices.

The New Skills Agenda for Europe, launched in 2016, consists of 10 measures to make the right training and support available to people and to revise a number of existing tools, such as the European CV format Europass).

Challenge of long-term unemployment

Long-term unemployment, when people are unemployed for more than 12 months, is one of the causes of persistent poverty. It remains very high in some EU countries and still accounts for almost 50% of total unemployment.

To better integrate the long-term unemployed in the labour market, EU countries adopted recommendations: they encourage the registration of long-term unemployed with an employment service, individual in-depth assessment to identify their needs, as well as a tailor-made plan to bring them back to work (a job integration agreement). It would be available to anyone unemployed for 18 months or more.

Long-term absence from work often leads to unemployment and to workers leaving the labour market permanently. To retain and reintegrate workers into the workplace who suffer from injuries or chronic health problems, in 2018, the European Parliament formulated a set of measures for member states to work on, such as making workplaces more adaptable through skills development programmes, ensuring flexible working conditions and providing support to workers (including coaching, access to a psychologist or therapist).

Promoting workers’ mobility

Making it easier for people to work in another country can help tackle unemployment. The EU has a set of common rules in place to protect people’s social rights related to unemployment, sickness, maternity/paternity, family benefits etc. when moving within Europe. Rules on the posting of workers establish the principle of same pay for same work at the same workplace.

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EU Politics

EU clears way for the EU Digital COVID Certificate

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Today, the Presidents of the three EU institutions, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process. On this occasion Presidents David Sassoli and Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister António Costa said:

“The EU Digital COVID Certificate is a symbol of what Europe stands for. Of a Europe that does not falter when put to the test. A Europe that unites and grows when faced with challenges. Our Union showed again that we work best when we work together. The EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation was agreed between our institutions in the record time of 62 days. While we worked through the legislative process, we also built the technical backbone of the system, the EU gateway, which is live since 1 June.

We can be proud of this great achievement. The Europe that we all know and that we all want back is a Europe without barriers. The EU Certificate will again enable citizens to enjoy this most tangible and cherished of EU rights – the right to free movement. Signed into law today, it will enable us to travel more safely this summer. Today we reaffirm together that an open Europe prevails.”

EU Digital COVID Certificate

The aim of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is to facilitate safe and free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. All Europeans have the right to free movement, also without the certificate, but the certificate will facilitate travel, exempting holders from restrictions like quarantine.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be accessible for everyone and it will:

  • cover COVID-19 vaccination, test and recovery;
  • be free of charge and available in all EU languages;
  • be available in a digital and paper-based format;
  • be secure and include a digitally signed QR code;

Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.

In addition, the Commission committed to mobilising €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

The Regulation will apply for 12 months as of 1 July 2021.

Background

On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to create an EU COVID Certificate to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens within the EU during the pandemic. On 20 May, co-legislators reached a provisional agreement. On 1 June, the technical backbone of the systems, the EU gateway, went live. The gateway allows the verification of the security features contained in the QR codes.

Following the official signature today, the Regulation will enter into application on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.

13 Member States have already started to issue EU Digital COVID Certificates.

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EU proposes a strong multilateral trade response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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EU has submitted its proposal seeking the commitment of World Trade Organization (WTO) members for a multilateral trade action plan to expand the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and ensure universal and fair access. With this proposal to the WTO, divided in two communications, the EU underlines the WTO’s central role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and urges fellow WTO members to agree on a set of commitments, including on intellectual property rights.

President von der Leyen said: “The EU has actively shown solidarity with the world since the beginning of the pandemic. The European Union authorized exports of around half of the total amount of vaccines produced in Europe. Our immediate, urgent goal is to ensure equitable access for low – and middle-income countries, to share vaccines wider and faster. And we continue to help ramping up production. The EU proposes concrete short and medium term solutions to ensure universal access at affordable prices. I am looking forward to discuss with the G7 leaders next week how to achieve this goal. Beyond the current crisis, it is important to ensure global preparedness for future pandemics: diversifying manufacturing so that it is not centralised only in a handful of countries and strengthening the resilience of the healthcare infrastructure in least developed countries”.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The pandemic is still with us and there can be no room for complacency. We need to urgently concentrate on proposals that accelerate the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. In this respect, a strong multilateral trade response could deliver a huge boost in the fight against COVID-19. In reality, the main problem at this moment relates to the lack of sufficient manufacturing capacity to rapidly produce the required quantities. The objective must be to ensure that any available and adequate manufacturing capacity anywhere in the world is used for the COVID-19 vaccines production.”

More on the EU’s proposal

The EU calls on governments to:

  1. Ensure that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and their components can cross borders freely;
  2. encourage producers to expand their production, while ensuring that those countries most in need of vaccines receive them at an affordable price, and;
  3. facilitate the use of compulsory licensing within the WTO’s existing Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS Agreement already provides this flexibility, which is a legitimate tool during the pandemic that can be used swiftly where needed

The first element aims to limit the use of export restrictions and keep supply chains open. Vaccine-producing countries should be ready to export a fair share of their domestic production. Supply chains are highly interconnected and should not be disrupted. In addition, the EU considers that supplies to the COVAX Facility should never be restricted, and no measures should limit trade in inputs necessary for the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 

The second element calls on governments to strongly encourage and support vaccine manufacturers and developers to expand production and ensure the affordable supply of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Such actions could include licensing agreements, the sharing of expertise, tiered pricing including non-profit sales to low-income countries, contract manufacturing and new investments in manufacturing facilities in developing countries. The EU expects all vaccine producers and developers to make concrete pledges that increase supplies to vulnerable developing countries. In this regard, the EU welcomes the commitment of companies such as BioNTech and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, which have already committed to delivering 1.3 billion doses this year to low-income countries at no profit and to middle-income countries at lower cost.

The third element, on intellectual property, sets out that voluntary licences are the most effective instrument to facilitate the expansion of production and sharing of expertise. Where voluntary cooperation fails, compulsory licences, whereby a government grants a targeted licence allowing a willing producer to make a vaccine without the consent of a patent holder, are a legitimate tool in the context of a pandemic. The EU considers that all WTO members should be ready to:

  • agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional circumstance of national emergency, and that the requirement to negotiate with the rights’ holder may be legitimately waived where needed;
  • support manufacturers that are ready to produce vaccines and/or treatments at affordable prices under a compulsory licence so that the level of remuneration paid by the manufacturer to the patent holder reflects such affordable prices;
  • agree that the compulsory licence could cover any exports destined to countries that lack manufacturing capacity, including via the COVAX facility.

The EU is also tabling a dedicated communication on intellectual property to the WTO body in charge of implementing the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council). Here, the EU provides more detail and clarity on each of the three points on intellectual property and links them with the specific provisions in the TRIPS Agreement. As regards the broad waiver proposed by a number of WTO members, the European Commission, while ready to discuss any option that helps end the pandemic as soon as possible, is not convinced that this would provide the best immediate response to reach the objective of the widest and timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines that the world urgently needs. Today’s proposals aim at achieving that objective in a swift and effective manner.

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EU Politics

EU Digital COVID Certificate: Parliament and Council reach agreement

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Photo: Lukas Souza/Unsplash

The Commission welcomes today’s provisional political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the Regulation governing the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This means that the certificate (previously called the Digital Green Certificate) is well on track to be ready end of June, as planned. Today’s agreement has been reached in record time just two months after the Commission’s proposal. The negotiations on the certificate for the Commission have been led by Commissioner Didier Reynders in close cooperation with Vice-Presidents Vera Jourová and Margaritis Schinas and Commissioners Thierry Breton, Stella Kyriakides, and Ylva Johansson.

Welcoming this swift progress, President Ursula von der Leyen said:

“We are delivering on our commitment to have the EU Digital COVID Certificate up and running before the summer. European citizens are looking forward to travelling again, and today’s agreement means they will be able to do so safely very soon.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate is free of charge, secure and accessible to all. It will cover vaccination, test and recovery offering different options to the citizens. It fully respects citizens’ fundamental rights, including protection of personal data.

All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU. The EU Digital COVID Certificate, available in paper or digital format, will make it easier for Europeans to travel – whether to see their families and loved ones or to get some well-deserved rest.

We would like to thank the European Parliament and the Portuguese Presidency for their dedication, perseverance and immense work at record speed to find an agreement on the proposal we presented.

Work still remains. At EU level, the system will be ready in the next few days. It is now crucial that all Member States press ahead with the roll-out of their national systems to ensure that the system can be up and running as soon as possible. This is what EU citizens rightly expect.

Today’s agreement has demonstrated that with the commitment and cooperation of all, the EU Digital COVID Certificate will be available on time.”

The EU Digital COVID Certificate – key features

Following the agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council, the EU Digital COVID Certificate:

  • will cover vaccination, test and recovery;
  • will be available in a digital and paper-based format, depending on the choice of the recipients, and contain a digitally signed QR code;
  • will be free of charge, be obtained easily and also available to persons vaccinated before the EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation has entered into force;
  • may also be used by Member States for national purposes, if this is provided for in national law.
  • Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.
  • The Commission will also mobilise €100 million to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

Next Steps

The political agreement will now have to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. The Regulation will enter into force on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.

In parallel, the Commission will continue to support the Member States in finalising their national solutions for the issuance and verification of EU Digital COVID Certificate, and to provide technical and financial support to Member States to on-board the gateway.

Background

On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to create an EU COVID certificate to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens within the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Commission’s request, the Parliament voted in favour of the activation of the urgent procedure for the two proposals on 25 March. The Council adopted its negotiating position on 14 April, and the Parliament did so on 29 April. On 20 May co-legislators reached provisional agreement on this file.

In parallel to the legislative process, important progress was already made on the technical side. The EU Gateway, which allows to verify certificates across borders, is ready and will go live as of June. Successful pilot tests took place with 17 Member States and Iceland during the last two weeks, further five Member States will test next week.

The Commission also provide open source reference software to support Member States to develop their national solution to issue certificates, to scan and check the QR codes, and a reference wallet for storage.

Previously, on 21 April, technical specification guidelines were adopted by Member States representatives in the eHealth Network, a voluntary network connecting national authorities responsible for eHealth. They are building on the close work of the Commission with the Member States, having resulted in first guidelines adopted in January and updated on 12 March, and a trust framework outline agreed on 12 March 2021. In addition, a common design template was developed in the eHealth network.

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