EU Commission sets job creation targets

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The Independent Online
The European Commission unveiled a new unemployment strategy yesterday. It aims to create 12 million jobs over the next five years through ambitious targets on training and by easing the burden of taxation on employers. Katherine Butler reports from Brussels

The Commission's proposals, which controversially call for member states to judge each others job-creation performance, come ahead of next month's special EU leaders' employment summit. But they set the scene for open confrontation at that meeting between on the one hand those, such as the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who believe that governments ought to be tackling excessive workplace regulation, and others such as the French, who see government compliance with centrally prescribed job creation targets as an essential parallel for Economic and Monetary Union.

According to the plans outlined yesterday by Commission President Jacques Santer, governments would commit themselves to increasing the numbers of unemployed on job training schemes from the present rate of 10 per cent to 25 per cent.

Combined with a reduction in employers' contributions, these steps would, Mr Santer said, help reduce the rate of unemployment from 11 per cent to 7 per cent.

Padraig Flynn, the EU social affairs commissioner who framed the details said "The time has come to set targets and quantify our employment goals."

He added that there would be a "moral obligation" on each member state to meet the targets they had signed up to. Governments judged by their peers to be lagging behind would be issued with specific recommendations for remedial action.

The plan acknowledges that work patterns and organisation need to be "modernised" to allow more flexible working arrangements and the possibility of reduced working time. But it also stresses that need to maintain "the required balance" between flexibility and job security.

British officials said the key to tackling the EU's unemployment ills rested in flexible labour markets and adaptable workforces while maintaining "decent" minimum standards at work.