Estonia will hold its first term as the presidency of the Council of the European Union from July to December 2017. In the Council of the European Union, 28 Member States make decisions on policies affecting the welfare and security of more than 500 million EU citizens. The role of the presidency is to seek common ground among the different opinions of Member States, and guide the Member States towards agreements - to be an honest broker acting for the common benefit of the whole. The presidency will also communicate to the media and the international public, the process of reaching common positions as well as the substantive topics and issues discussed.
The presidency is responsible for organising the sessions of the Council of the European Union and the duties of working groups – to prepare agendas and chair meetings. The presidency presents and supports agreements between Member States in negotiations with the European Commission and the European Parliament. In the last stage of the negotiations, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament adopt decisions that are binding to all Member States and shape the day-to-day life of 500 million European citizens. Estonia, within the presidency, will have to address some 500 different issues.
Estonia will organise more than 2,000 meetings in Brussels, and 230 events in Estonia. Informal meetings in Estonia will provide an opportunity to highlight important issues and contribute to the development of common positions. The Government will approve the policy objectives of the Estonian presidency, i.e. the Presidency Programme, immediately before the start of the presidency. The events held in both Estonia and Brussels will also provide a unique opportunity to promote Estonia as the country holding the EU presidency. More than 20,000 visitors are expected to attend the presidency events in Estonia over the six-month term of the presidency.
Priorities of the Ministry of Social Affairs for the Presidency
- The aim of the regulation on social security coordination is to clarify and make more equitable the rules of social insurance, on the basis of which states pay social insurance benefits when people move to another Member State. This applies to family benefits, unemployment benefits, and long-term care. It is relevant in the case of family benefits, when one parent is often employed in a state different to the one where their family resides, and in the case of unemployment benefits. People should be able to easily understand their rights and who is responsible for the payment of benefits. In the case of unemployment benefits, it is suggested that the state of employment pays the employment benefits instead of the state of residence if a person loses their job after having worked in the country of employment for at least 12 months. This would transfer the obligation of payment of the benefit to the state that has had sufficient time to collect contributions.
- High-level conference ‘Future of Work – Making IT e-Easy’
The development of digital technologies is fundamentally changing our economy, societies, and the labour market, which is why we have to contribute more to the skills of people and the renewing of legislation already today. Work in the future creates new opportunities, but it requires the modernisation of working conditions and the social security system, as well as increased investments in the skills and knowledge of employees. The implementation of the necessary changes requires the will and commitment of policy makers and the active involvement of social partners.
To continue the debate on the future of work during the Estonian presidency, we will organize a high-level conference in Estonia called ‘Future of Work – Making IT e-Easy’ which will take place in Tallinn on 13–14 September 2017. The main objective of the conference is to introduce practical solutions which will make adapting to the future of work considerably easier. Four hundred participants and more than 30 speakers are expected to participate in the conference in Tallinn.
The conference will be opened by Kersti Kaljulaid, President of the Republic of Estonia, and Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Other speakers include members of the European Parliament; high-level representatives of the European Commission and the OECD; ministers of the Member States of the European Union; leaders of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Confederation of European Business (BusinessEurope), Jobbatical, Google, LinkedIn; founder of the e-Learning platform ALISON, which has more than 10 million users; and the Chief Executive Officer of eCampus Ontario from Canada. The director of the world’s No. 1 think tank, McKinsey Global Institute, will also be in Tallinn.
Estonia intends to present the Council conclusions on the future of work in the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in December 2017, which is one of the inputs for further policy-making.
- Work-life balance package. The European Commission has come out with a directive on work-life balance that establishes new rights for leaves and benefits for workers with a burden of care. The new initiatives include paid paternity leave, paid parental leave of at least four months for both parents, paid care leave, but also the opportunity to ask the employer for a flexible work arrangement.
It is important to provide good solutions for reconciling work and family life to increase the equal distribution of the burden of care between men and women and to support the employment of women. Women generally stay at home with children or care for their loved ones and therefore stay away from the labour market for a longer time. In 2015, for example, the difference between female and male employment participation rates in Europe was an average of 12%. One third of women and only about 8% of men worked part-time.
- The directive on accessibility is intended to help people with special needs – people with disabilities as well as the elderly and people with temporary health problems – to fully participate in society by finding universal solutions suitable for all. Many people who would like to study, work or participate in any other way in society are unable to do so due to a lack of smart solutions. However, special solutions providing accessibility are costly to the state, entrepreneurs, and to the people themselves. Universal solutions, however, are useful to everyone. Common rules will also make it easier for entrepreneurs to trade and provide services cross-border. Automatic teller machines and ticket machines should become accessible to people using wheelchairs, provide voice directions to partially sighted persons, and allow changing the font size on the screen.
- E-health. Digital solutions provide people with better opportunities to take care of their health and help healthcare professionals improve the quality of treatment. Digital solutions allow patients to be more involved in making decisions about their health and help make treatment more accurate and better tailored to individual needs. Every citizen must have the right and opportunity to digitally access their health data, as well as to allow or restrain the safe sharing of health data for the use of various e-services.
The objective of Estonia during the presidency of the Council of the European Union is to reach the conclusions of the Council of the European Union that would provide EU-wide political guidelines for the establishment of policies and activities on e-health in the coming years to accelerate and extend the use of health data across borders. Health data must be used securely and not be secured from use. In May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation will enter into force in the European Union and create a common ground for the protection of personal data and the free movement of personal data. As the regulation provides the Member States with the possibility to make exceptions in the processing of health data in certain cases, it is important that EU Member States cooperate and exchange information to ensure that the implementation of the regulation would support the development of health services in the best way possible.
- Reduction of alcohol related harm in Europe. Europeans consume the most alcohol in the world and Europe is where the most social, economic, and health-related harm has been caused by alcohol. Overconsumption of alcohol causes about 25% of deaths of men aged 15–29 every year. Nearly one in ten deaths in the European Union is due to alcohol. More than a fifth 15-year-olds and older drink alcohol at least once a week and this has become common in all age groups in Europe. Alcohol directly causes more than 200 diseases and injuries and seven different forms of cancers. The social harm caused by alcohol in the EU is estimated at €155.8 billion a year.
Alcohol policy has been a long-standing issue in Europe and Member States have worked together to reduce alcohol-related harm. Estonia considers it important to continue to address the issue during their presidency, focusing on the cross-border aspects of alcohol policy, such as border trade, cross-border advertising, challenges arising from the development of new media in the management of alcohol advertising, labelling of alcoholic beverages, and scientific cooperation. A more efficient EU-wide cooperation in these areas would help Member States tackle alcohol-related harm more effectively.
- Draft amendment to the Posted Workers Directive – an employer may post an employee to provide services in another Member State. During this time, special work related conditions and rights apply to the employee. For example, the salary cannot be less than the local minimum wage.
Alongside the protection of workers’ rights, it is important to guarantee entrepreneurs their freedom to provide services and to clarify what kinds of working conditions must be guaranteed to employees. The objective of the European Commission is to ensure better protection for posted workers and equal competition conditions for entrepreneurs of the host and sending Member States. One of the most important proposals concerns the remuneration to which posted workers are entitled. Pursuant to the draft, the remuneration must not include only the minimum wage as it does today, but also other parts of remuneration, such as bonuses.