President. The next item is the recommendation for second reading of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs on the Council common position for adopting a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity – PROGRESS (06282/3/2006 – C6-0272/2006 – 2004/0158(COD)) (Rapporteur: Karin Jöns) (A6-0300/2006).
Karin Jöns (PSE), rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, a happy outcome is worth waiting for; we will, today, be adopting the European Union’s biggest-ever action programme in the fields of employment and social policy. As its name indicates, PROGRESS stands for progress and social solidarity, and that is why this House saw it as important that it should be rolled out, as planned, at the beginning of January 2007, and that is what we are, by this vote, going to be able to do, now that the Council has accommodated our wishes.
I therefore want to thank all those who have played a part in making PROGRESS what it now is, namely a really comprehensive and, above all, well-funded strategic instrument that really can put the fight against unemployment, poverty and social exclusion on a more sustainable footing.
I must, though, also reiterate my thanks to our budget specialists from all the groups, who, in the trialogue negotiations, had a hard-won fight to get PROGRESS’ funding increased by almost 20%, which amounts to doing the impossible.
It was, in the past, repeatedly lamented that the previous multiannual programmes – which addressed the labour market, social integration, anti-discrimination and equality of opportunity – would not be enough to actually push through our social agenda in the way it had been planned for, that is to say, to facilitate a real and rapid exchange of political approaches, concepts and measures among the Member States and to bring them together in developing further indicators and more effective measures.
It was agreed that what was more needed was an exchange that was organised differently and better structured, together with more rigorous cooperation, and it is precisely this approach that PROGRESS takes, and it does so by not merely bringing the existing programmes together, but also by improving the structures of cooperation and involving policy-makers at all levels. This, for example, involves the promotion of networking and mutual learning not only at the European level, but also across borders, and at the national, regional, and local levels.
I am very glad that we eventually managed to persuade the Commission and the Council to continue fostering cross-border sharing of experiences, for where else are we going to get the European added value for which we are constantly crying out? In order, though, to circulate more rapidly the results of studies and analyses, experience gained and best practice, there will also, in future, be a forum tasked with the evaluation and implementation of the social policy agenda, which will also be involved in the further development of strategies and the setting down of new priorities.
I also see it as vitally important that we succeeded in giving the social partners and non-governmental organisations a considerably bigger role than the Commission had originally envisaged, so that they are now involved in the constructive monitoring and further development of the strategies rather than being limited in their functioning to merely pursuing the European objectives.
We have also extended Parliament’s influence, in that we are fully involved not only in implementation but also in evaluation, with, for the first time, the Commission’s reports on implementation being sent not only to the programme committee but also to us.
Finally, I would like, in particular, to thank Commissioner Špidla, without whose support we would not have managed to incorporate in all language versions the concept – which is in fact more than a mere concept – of gender mainstreaming, as satisfactorily as we have now done.
Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the June agreement on the financial perspective raised hopes for a rapid and successful conclusion to the negotiations on the Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity – Progress, which is the main political instrument for supporting the implementation of the ambitious objectives that the Union set itself in the Lisbon Strategy. Reality has borne this out. Today you are preparing to announce the decision on which this programme is based.
I should like to take this opportunity to thank, in particular, the members of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs for their outstanding work and for their efforts throughout the negotiation process. I should especially like to thank most warmly Mrs Jöns, Parliament’s rapporteur on these matters, along with all of the shadow rapporteurs, without whom it would not have been possible to reach such a positive conclusion.
This text uses concepts based on the agreement reached between the institutions. The questions that Parliament raised in 2005 when it assessed the proposal at first reading have been taken on board. The distribution of the budget between policy areas relating to our programme meets your expectations. We have responded to your desire for greater prominence to be given to the area of gender equality. This has also been the case with social inclusion and social protection. Parliament will be closely involved every year in voting on the sums needed to implement the actions arising from the programme. This was a point on which Parliament and the Commission share the same opinion. We both believe that this must be done in a completely transparent way. I am pleased to note that the Council has finally adopted this approach, which also paved the way for the negotiations to reach a speedy conclusion.
Lastly, I should like to thank the Members of Parliament, whose efforts and determination have helped bring about this excellent outcome.
Robert Atkins (PPE-DE). – Mr President, can you explain or give any good reason why the votes have been arbitrarily postponed to 11.40, when previously they were announced for 11.30? There was no need to start this debate at the time it did start. Yet again, the administration of this Parliament is putting the convenience of the Presidency before the interests of Members. It is not good enough.
President. The debate is continuing because of delays in the voting process.
Jan Andersson , on behalf of the PSE Group. – (SV) I do not wish to prolong this debate by much. First and foremost, I would like to offer particular thanks to Mrs Jöns, who has done some outstanding work on the Progress programme. Her work has made it possible for us to quickly achieve a solution and for this solution, in contrast to what happened on the last occasion, to come into effect very quickly indeed. Progress is an important programme, a combined programme for dealing with employment and social issues, promoting equality and combating discrimination. We have backed this idea of a combined programme. One of the solutions was for us here in the European Parliament to make efforts to have more money appropriated to the programme within the framework of the long-term budget, since this is a matter relating to the social Europe about which we so often speak. The agreement to provide more money for the Progress programme also facilitated agreement about the programme as a whole. There was a certain degree of discord in relation to the issues of equality and social integration, but these issues have since been resolved. These areas of the programme have received extra resources in order to provide greater equality, social integration and social protection. This has not been done at the expense of other areas. Resources have instead been taken from the reserve. I believe that this will be a very good solution and I believe that Progress will play a role in the construction of the social Europe of the future. I would like to thank Mrs Jöns once more for her excellent work.
The debate on the item was suspended for voting time. It was to be resumed at 9 p.m.