Speech given by Minister of Employment Timo Harakka during an exchange of views with the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) on 24 July 2019
(Check against delivery) Madam Chair, Members of the European Parliament, First of all, I would like to congratulate the chair and vice-chairs of this committee on your new appointments. We look forward to working together with you constructively, in Europe’s best interest.
I can summarise the most important goal of Finland’s Presidency in these words: Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future. To achieve this goal, during its Presidency, Finland will promote an accelerated transition to a climate neutral economy in a way that is socially sustainable.
Throughout our Presidency, we will turn the focus on upholding Europe’s common values and reinforcing the rule of law, on forging a competitive and socially inclusive European Union, on strengthening the EU’s position as a global climate leader, and on ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.
We aim to create a new strategy of sustainable and socially inclusive growth for the EU.
In the work of the Council, our objective is to put in practice the priorities of the new Strategic Agenda, which the European Council agreed on in June.
The agenda for the EU also highlights social justice in the transition to a climate neutral economy.
Following on from a Commission communication on a clean planet for all, the EPSCO Council meeting on 8 July 2019 debated the employment aspects of the transition to a climate neutral economy. The ministers felt that EU cooperation was crucial for ensuring that we make a rapid transition to a climate neutral economy, and that we achieve it in a way that is socially inclusive and fair. Continuous upskilling and social dialogue will be imperative for our efforts to provide access to employment and achieve successful and just transitions.
Businesses should seek to reorganise work and embrace digital solutions in a way that is socially inclusive. Upskilling is vital for securing a high employment rate and balancing the skills needs of companies and the supply of labour. These aspects were placed centre stage in a Presidency conference, held in Helsinki in early July, on digital transformation, on-the-job learning and reorganisation of work.
In line with the Strategic Agenda, Finland also emphasises ensuring equal opportunities for all. This is crucial for the development of both society and the economy, since, in addition to being a major social and economic risk, inequality also constitutes a political risk.
Sometimes the transformation of work and the pace of change in working life make it seem like ‘the future is already here’, as they say. Our answers to these new challenges are also needed urgently, here and now. We must be able to ensure that the terms and conditions of work are fair, also for the kinds of work emerging at the moment. We cannot allow anybody to be exploited or left alone amidst these changes.
There are not many legislative files pending during Finland’s Presidency, as much good work was accomplished and solutions were found for the pending initiatives during the Romanian and Austrian presidencies, and those that preceded them.
With regard to the European Social Fund Plus, the Council reached a partial general approach during the Romanian Presidency. Certain horizontal questions and issues related to the Budget remain outstanding.
The Council also adopted a partial general approach on the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund.
When it comes to both funds, Finland is prepared to begin trilogue negotiations with the Parliament on those questions for which the Council has established a general approach.
Corporations and employees operate on the global market. The conclusions on the implementation of the ILO Centenary Declaration will be drafted during Finland’s Presidency. Our ability to ensure sustainable development and decent work depends on global cooperation and international labour standards. It is also important for European consumers and workers that we safeguard fair working conditions and employment terms in global supply chains.
Finland is currently drafting the Council conclusions on promoting the employment of persons who are difficult to employ. Our objective is to advance social justice, improve growth and employment, and tackle problems related to skills matching. For example, by building paths to education and employment in cooperation with the relevant authorities, we can solve problems related to physical and mental fitness for work, and address issues concerning lack of skills, language proficiency and work experience.
During Finland’s Presidency, we plan to discuss the possibility of expanding qualified majority voting to the field of social policy in connection with a Commission communication. In principle, the transition to qualified majority voting could apply to areas such as equality, employee participation systems and the terms of employment for third-country nationals residing legally in the country. The decision would require a Commission proposal and unanimity among the Member States.
Finland’s Presidency programme emphasises the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights at the EU level and in the Member States according to their respective spheres of competence. In connection with this, we will discuss the challenges, opportunities and priorities related to EU employment and social policy.
On 9 December 2019, we will hold a dinner in Brussels where we will discuss this topic. Our guests at the event will include ministers of employment and social affairs, members of the Employment Committee and representatives from labour market organisations at the EU level.
When it comes to EU labour law, there are several Directives being transposed by the Member States. During Finland’s Presidency, we will discuss how to reform EU labour law and improve its implementation in a way that also takes into account the transformations taking place in working life and the overall operating environment.
The European Labour Authority will begin its work on labour mobility during our Presidency. The newly established authority will support us in promoting free, safe and fair mobility of the labour force within the EU and in strengthening the cooperation between authorities in tackling undeclared work and supervising occupational health and safety, particularly for posted workers.
We consider it important to engage in strong social dialogue at the EU level. We aim to take into account the views of labour market organisations in our work during the Presidency. We will consult with organisations at a tripartite social summit on 16 October, to which we will also invite representatives from the European Parliament.
Madam Chair, thank you. I would be happy to answer any questions from the Members of Parliament.