Most MEPs speaking in Tuesday's debate on the Commission's new "social agenda" welcomed the package of measures, though some said there were insufficiently specific and substantial. There will be a vote on a resolution on the whole package at the next plenary session, after a debate on the patient mobility plans.
Commission and Council
Presenting "the largest package ever submitted by the Commission" to Parliament Commissioner Vladimír Špidla, responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, stressed that "the 18 measures represent a first step towards the aim to share and strengthen Europe's social dimension". "Economic and social goals are two sides of the same coin and must be closely coordinated to people's benefit", he added.
According to Xavier Bertrand, French minister for employment and social affairs and president-in-office of the Council, "2008 must be the year for relaunching a social Europe. I believe all European actorswantthis". He said the Council presidency also wished to "tackle at the outset the question of the European social agenda, by coming up with practical measures".
The minister added that the Member States are linked by common values, which are the distinctive feature of the European social model. This he saw as "a trump card in globalisation as it emphasises the value of human capital". He also argued for an adaptation of the system through the introduction of "flexicurity" for both workers and employers.
Political group speakers
"My group sets great store by the definition of social justice", in the context of globalisation, stressed Joseph Daul (EPP-ED, FR). He welcomed the Commission's proposal but added that he would like to "go further on the basic issues such as demographic change, globalisation and poverty".
Mr Daul also welcomed the Commission's proposals on social dialogue as "a key feature of success". "The social field remains fundamentally an area for the Member States, and this can and must change", he said, while still stressing the importance of subsidiarity.
Martin Schulz (PES, DE) said that "many people were afraid that Europeno longer guarantees social protection". In his view "Europe is governed by the right, and so is aiming in the wrong direction -and that has to be corrected in the European elections", he stressed.
Mr Schulz acknowledged that "in the worldwide competition from Beijing to Brisbane we can only stand our ground if the EU's internal market is developed" but stressed that "we have to create a European added value that everyone benefits from".
For Graham Watson (ALDE, UK) "this social package constitutes a welcome step forward" in building "a Europe that aims to take care of its citizens". Mr Watson backed the proposal to revise the adjustment fund, "which is based on the solid Liberal principle that a job is the best source of welfare".
"The social dimension is what differentiates Europe from other powers such as the United States and China, said Jan Tadeusz Masiel (PL), for the UEN group. "These social values are a good example for the new Member States that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007", he added. Mr Masiel called on the European Commission to "send a strong signal to Member States to strengthen the social acquis, which serves the EU".
Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, UK) said she was happy that the package recognised that "we have poverty" and welcomed "the sentiment". However, "concrete action is what we are really looking for", she added.
"The package in no way fulfils citizens' expectations", said Gabriele Zimmer (GUE/NGL, DE). "The package won't bridge the social divide", she stressed, adding that her group rejected the package "in its vagueness and misguided development".
"This social package is not really new" said Derek Clark (UK) on behalf of the IND/DEM group. "To fund this package, we need a prosperous economy", he stressed. "The EU is protectionist and is afraid of globalization. Don't fight it. Don't combat it. Join it! Accept the rest of the world and the EU economy will increase", he said. He also underlined that the social policy is not a priority of the French presidency according to the speech by Mr Sarkozy in July in 2008.
Carl Lang (NI, FR) observed that "sadly, the European social model is now no more than a myth", as European society is in a state of "regression, anguish and social precarity". We should prepare to reorganise the European social model around two concepts: "family policy and the reconquest of the social market (...) we must reindustrialise, without bowing to the quasi-religious dogma of free trade", he declared.
Rapporteur and Committee Chair
Referring to Martin Schulz's speech, Philip Bushill-Matthews (EPP-ED, UK), rapporteur on European Works Council, pointed out that the centre right is the largest group in Europe "because the people have decided it" and due to "the gap between the rhetoric of the left and the reality".
He welcomed the revised social package tabled by the Commission and stressed the important role of the Member States, the rights of non-workers, job creation and the need to involve SMEs in the decision process. Mr Bushill-Matthews welcomed the fact that there is an agreement between the social partners on the Works Council directive, even though he personally was not very much in favour of it.
Civil Liberties Committee Chairman Gérard Deprez (ALDE, BE), congratulated the Commission on its proposal to combat discrimination, because "we had feared that it would be limited to a mini-directive", he said. He regretted that Parliament had not been consulted, but noted a degree of openness on the part of the Council on this dossier. Mr Deprez felt that some of the concepts used needed to be clarified. "But neither should the directive be emptied of substance by hasty recourse to concepts such as public order or public safety", as observed in certain Member States.