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.
Green Deal: €1 billion investment to boost the green and digital transition
The European Commission has decided to launch a €1 billion call for research and innovation projects that respond to the climate crisis and help protect Europe’s unique ecosystems and biodiversity. The Horizon 2020-funded European Green Deal Call, which will open tomorrow for registration, will spur Europe’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis by turning green challenges into innovation opportunities.
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “The €1 billion European Green Deal call is the last and biggest call under Horizon 2020. With innovation at its heart, this investment will accelerate a just and sustainable transition to a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. As we do not want anyone left behind in this systemic transformation, we call for specific actions to engage with citizens in novel ways and improve societal relevance and impact.”
This Green Deal Call differs in important aspects from previous Horizon 2020 calls. Given the urgency of the challenges it addresses, it aims for clear, discernible results in the short to medium-term, but with a perspective of long-term change. There are fewer, but more targeted, larger and visible actions, with a focus on rapid scalability, dissemination and uptake.
The projects funded under this call are expected to deliver results with tangible benefits in ten areas:
Eight thematic areas reflecting the key work streams of the European Green Deal:
- Increasing climate ambition
- Clean, affordable and secure energy
- Industry for a clean and circular economy
- Energy and resource efficient buildings
- Sustainable and smart mobility
- Farm to fork
- Biodiversity and ecosystems
- Zero-pollution, toxic-free environments
And two horizontal areas – strengthening knowledge and empowering citizens, which offer a longer-term perspective in achieving the transformations set out in the European Green Deal.
The €1 billion investment will continue building Europe’s knowledge systems and infrastructures. The call includes opportunities for international cooperation in addressing the needs of less-developed nations, particularly in Africa, in the context of the Paris Agreement as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The deadline for submissions is 26 January 2021, with selected projects expected to start in autumn 2021.
A Horizon 2020 Green Deal Call Info Day & Brokerage event will take place as part of the virtual European Research & Innovation Days that will take place from 22-24 September 2020.
The European Green Deal is the European Commission’s blueprint and roadmap to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050, with a sustainable economy that leaves no one behind.
To reach this 2050 goal, action will be required by all sectors of our economy, including:
- investing in environmentally-friendly technologies;
- supporting industry to innovate;
- rolling out cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport;
- decarbonising the energy sector;
- ensuring buildings are more energy efficient;
- working with international partners to improve global environmental standards.
Why social fairness and solidarity are more important than ever
EU Commission’s services have published the 2020 edition of the Employment and Social Developments in Europe (ESDE) review dedicated to the theme of social fairness and solidarity. The review provides evidence-based analysis on how to achieve greater fairness across the EU in the face of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic as well as structural changes due to demographic ageing, and the green and digital transitions.
Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit said: “The ESDE report shows that strengthening social fairness is key to overcoming the crisis. This requires putting people front and centre. To ensure resilience, solidarity and cohesion, the EU’s response has to prioritise employment, reduce inequalities and ensure equal opportunities. The effective implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights will serve as our guide.”
The review notes that the COVID-19 pandemic is having profound health, economic, employment and social effects, threatening much of the progress that the EU had achieved previously. All Member States are experiencing a greater economic shock than in 2008-2009. Economic output has contracted sharply and unemployment is on the rise. The most vulnerable persons, including Europe’s youth, are hit particularly hard.
Against this background, the ESDE report points to the following findings:
Adequate minimum wages and minimum income can have a beneficial effect on the social mobility of Europeans.
Strengthening social fairness, including through investments in people, pays off. Closing gender-related gaps brings particularly high returns, while extending working lives, and raising educational attainment also have positive effects.
Structural change, such as the green transition, has to be accompanied by social measures to be successful. Notably, this transition requires social investment in the form of re-skilling programmes and/or unemployment benefits. According to ESDE, this social investment could amount to €20 billion or more until 2030.
Short-time work schemes are protecting jobs effectively. The EU is helping Member States to provide such support through solidarity mechanisms like the instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE).
Social dialogue and collective bargaining influence fairness and its perception at the workplace by promoting more equitable wages, better working conditions and more inclusive labour markets.
More generally, to repair the damage done by COVID-19 and prepare an economy and society for a future of faster structural changes, the EU and Member States need to embrace fully the opportunities offered by the transition to a greener, digitalised economy and build inclusiveness, solidarity and resilience into the design of all policies. Ensuring a broad-based recovery is a key policy objective of our policy action, which will help strengthen social resilience in the longer run.
The annual Employment and Social Developments in Europe review prepared by the Directorate-General of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, provides up-to-date economic analysis of employment and social trends in Europe and discusses related policy options. It is the European Commission’s analytical flagship report in the area of employment and social affairs, mandated by Articles 151, 159 and 161 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
There are many examples in which the Commission focuses on addressing the challenges raised in the yearly ESDE reports. In April 2020, the Commission proposed the SURE instrument, which will provide €100 billion in financial support to help protect jobs and workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In May 2020, the Commission put forward a powerful, modern and revamped long-term EU budget boosted by NextGenerationEU, an emergency temporary recovery instrument, to help repair the economic and social damage brought by the coronavirus pandemic, kickstart the recovery and prepare for a better future for the next generation. The Recovery and Resilience Facility will be one of EU’s main recovery tools, providing an unprecedented €672.5 billion of loans and grants in frontloaded financial support for the crucial first years of the recovery. The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) will continue to invest in people, while an improved European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) will be able to intervene even more effectively to support workers who have lost their jobs. The European Pillar of Social Rights and its upcoming Action Plan, as well as initiatives and tools such as the European Skills Agenda, the Youth Employment Support initiative or the Digital Europe Programme will all contribute to address challenges identified in the ESDE.
EU-China Leaders’ Meeting: Upholding EU values and interests
The European Union and China held a Leaders’ Meeting via videoconference on 14 September 2020. An EU-China Leaders’ meeting with the participation of leaders of all EU member states was initially scheduled to take place on this date. President of the European Council, Charles Michel, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Federal Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, for the Council Presidency, conducted the videoconference with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The meeting provided an opportunity to follow up on discussions at the 22nd EU-China Summit (22 June). The meeting was important to maintain the momentum of EU-China high-level exchanges in order to achieve concrete results in line with EU interests and values.
The comprehensive agenda of the Leaders’ meeting covered trade and investment, climate change and biodiversity, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as international affairs and other issues.
With regard to the negotiations for an ambitious EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI), while both sides registered progress on the rules regulating the behaviour of State-owned-enterprises, on forced technology transfer and on transparency of subsidies, the EU emphasised that more work was urgently needed on the issues of rebalancing market access and on sustainable development. The EU called on China to step up its ambition on these issues. The two sides reaffirmed their objective of closing the remaining gaps before the end of the year. The EU side emphasised that high-level political engagement would be required within the Chinese system to achieve a meaningful agreement.
On other trade and economic issues, the EU reiterated its call on China to engage in future negotiations on industrial subsidies in the WTO. The EU stressed that, in line with China’s stated commitment to open up and ensure that EU producers are fairly treated on the Chinese market, more needed to be done to improve market access in the agri-food trade, financial services and the digital sector. The EU also again made clear its concerns on overcapacity, both in traditional sectors such as steel and aluminium as well as in high tech.
The two sides welcomed the signature of the EU-China Agreement on Geographical Indications which will improve access to the Chinese market especially for high-quality European agricultural products.
The EU underlined the need for reciprocity and a level playing field in the area of science and technology, underpinned by high ethical and integrity standards. Leaders welcomed and agreed to continue the high level digital dialogue. They looked forward to concrete progress on ICT standards, product safety and research and innovation.
On climate change and biodiversity, the EU encouraged China to strengthen its climate commitments in terms of peaking carbon dioxide emissions and setting the goal of climate neutrality domestically. The EU also stressed the importance of a moratorium in China of building coal-fired power plants and financing their construction abroad, at least as part of a global initiative. The EU also encouraged China to launch its national emission trading system soon. The two sides agreed to establish a High-Level Environment and Climate Dialogue to pursue ambitious joint commitments on these issues.
The EU noted that joint commitments by both sides on biodiversity could be a game-changer at global level and China has a key role to play as host of the Conference of the Parties next year. An ambitious global agreement would be a major achievement.
On the COVID-19 response, the EU emphasised the shared responsibility to participate in global efforts to stop the spread of the virus, boost research on treatments and vaccines, and strengthen the role of the World Health Organisation, including through the full implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution of May 2020. The EU also underlined that the recovery measures should support the transition to a greener and more sustainable economy. China’s full engagement in G20 efforts to support low-income countries and effectively implement the G20 – Paris Club Debt Service Suspension Initiative will also be essential.
With regard to Hong Kong, EU Leaders voiced their grave concerns about the erosion of the fundamental rights and freedoms following the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong on 30 June, which is contrary to China’s international commitments. They also reiterated the EU’s concerns at the postponement of the Legislative Council election and the disqualification of candidates.
The EU reiterated its serious concerns about the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, the situation of human rights defenders, as well as the limitations to freedom of expression and access to information. The two sides agreed that the Human Rights Dialogue will take place as a physical meeting in China later this year.
On regional and international issues, the EU referred to the escalating tensions in the South China Sea, urging for self-restraint and a peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. Leaders welcomed the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha. They also confirmed their commitment to upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal).
The EU also expressed readiness to continue to discuss the Strategic Agenda for Cooperation 2025, which can only be concluded once significant progress has been made in the negotiations on the Comprehensive Investment Agreement.
An EU-China Leaders’ Meeting with the participation of the Heads of State and Government of the EU member states and President Xi is foreseen to be held in 2021.
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