7th European Regional Meeting In Europe and Central Asia, a newly expanded social agenda

The European Region of the ILO is vast, spanning Europe and Central Asia from the Atlantic to the Pacific, as well as a diversity of cultures and societies. Despite this, the 50 member States of the European Region found common ground for "a common future of democracy, economic prosperity and social justice" at the 7th ILO European Regional Meeting held in Budapest from 14 to 18 February.

BUDAPEST - The conclusions of the 7th ILO European Regional Meeting were unequivocal.

After a week of discussions, marked by a new effort to be more "interactive", more than 600 worker, employer and government representatives adopted a sweeping set of conclusions saying "good governance, economic and social progress, and the fight against corruption rests on democratic institutions drawing their legitimacy from freely elected representation, effective social dialogue, fundamental principles and rights at work, and the rule of law".

The byword at the meeting was dialogue, between member States representing every phase of Europe's current evolution - ranging from the European Union 25 to the countries covered by the Stability Pact for the Reconstruction of South-East Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Council of Europe.

Indeed, diversity was illustrated by the presence of more than 30 ministers of labour, four heads of government - Mr. Ferenc Gyurcsány, Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg and holder of the European Union Presidency, Mr. Danial Akhmetov, Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, and Dr. Lawrence Gonzi, Prime Minister of Malta - and the EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Mr. Vladimír Špidla.

"What we are seeing is the development of the ILO role in promoting social dialogue, governance and economic integration for a common future in Europe and Central Asia", said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. "This will enhance the role of our Organization and its social partners in the pursuit of decent work."

The ILO Regional Meeting is the only regional institutional space where the 50 member States of the European Region can meet - in a tripartite manner - to discuss issues of common concern in the world of work. In addition to the political speakers, the social partners also played a key role. Mr. Michel Barde, Employer spokesperson, and Mrs. Ursula Englen-Kefer, Worker spokesperson, also delivered major statements to the delegates. The Hungarian Minister of Employment and Labour, Gabor Csizmar, was elected chair of the four-day meeting. And the Chairman of the ILO Governing Body, Philippe Séguin, chaired an Informal Ministerial Meeting in Hungary's ornate Parliament building to discuss the 2004 report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization.

Jobs, growth and a fair globalization

The meeting opened against the backdrop of a new ILO report painting a sombre picture of the global and European employment situation. The annual Global Employment Trends confirmed that despite robust growth, the global economy is failing to create enough new jobs. In Europe and Central Asia, despite a healthy 3.5 per cent economic growth rate in 2004, the number of jobs grew by only 0.5 per cent, according to the report.

"The harsh reality is that the global economy is not creating enough jobs nor stemming the tide of the growth of the informal economy where more than a billion workers live in grinding poverty", Mr. Somavia said. "In many ways, 2004 was a lost year for jobs."

"The challenges are great, but so too is the creativity of tripartism and social dialogue", Mr. Somavia commented. "In every country, we see new solutions emerging to meet the changing agendas of workers and employers. Amidst all these complexities, there is one shared aspiration."

In terms of remedying the global employment situation, social dialogue and achieving a fair glo-balization were seen as key. Mr. Somavia, the Prime Ministers of Hungary, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan and Malta, and tripartite representatives including Mr. François Périgot, President, International Organization of Employers, and Mr. John Monks, General-Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation, discussed the issue at a panel discussion entitled "Will social dialogue survive globalization?"

The answer came in terms of the agreement by delegates that the report of the ILO-supported World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization is a "useful stimulus to dialogue at the national, regional and international levels on the promotion of decent work as a global goal". The delegates also welcomed a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2004 urging that the Commission's recommendations be taken into account in the forthcoming review of the Millennium Development Goals.

"A fully inclusive and equitable globalization… creates opportunities for all", Mr. Somavia said. "This governance issue will dominate national and international debate for years to come. We cannot expand the reach of democracy and ignore the demands of the people for decent work. Decent work in a fair globalization is an attainable goal."

In their conclusions, delegates noted that globalization and rapid economic integration posed common challenges to countries, enterprises and workers in the European and Central Asian region. They called for "a common view of the need for greater policy coherence, at home, regionally and globally, between economic, social, financial and trade policies and policies for decent work" based on the fundamental principles and rights at work, employment, social protection and social dialogue.

Delegates also called on the ILO to strengthen its partnerships with donor countries and the European Commission in providing technical cooperation for decent work policies in countries requesting such assistance.

Spanning people's lives and work

The meeting, which greatly benefited from the support of the Hungarian Government and the Luxembourg EU Presidency, took a novel approach to developing policies to support people through various transitions in their lives and work, identifying four key areas of transition - from education to employment, moving from job to job, moving from country to country, and from work to security in old age.

The conclusions urge governments, in consultation with the social partners, to address the needs of young workers in "national employment strategies"; encourage the ILO to pursue tripartite consultations on flexibility and security for enterprises and workers in order to help meet the challenges of enhanced competition resulting from globalization and adaptation to rapidly changing markets; call on the tripartite social partners to support the development of a non-binding multilateral framework for a rights-based approach to labour migration adopted at the ILO annual International Labour Conference in June 2004; and requested the ILO to provide technical assistance to constituents in the region and facilitate the exchange of experience in the design and management of pension systems.

"As we mark the first year following an enlargement of the European Union, the European Regional Meeting was highly symbolic," said Friedrich Buttler, Director of the ILO European Region. "First, it was a unique meeting of East and West in the capital of a new member State in Central Europe that shows both faces of Europe - old as well as new. In addition, the very positive development of the relationship with the European Union, represented at the highest level by the Presidency of the European Council and by the European Commission, added a powerful force to our efforts to forge a common future. It showed, in clear detail, the new face of the ILO and its member States in this region."

European and Central Asian employment trends

Unemployment in Europe and Central Asia ( Note 1) remained unchanged in 2004 at 35 million, according to a supplement to the annual ILO Global Employment Trends prepared for the 7th ILO European Regional Meeting ( Note 2).

A closer look at the European and Central Asian region ( Note 3) showed that the unemployment rate decreased from 9.1 per cent to 9 per cent in the European Union (EU-25), from 8.5 per cent to 8.3 per cent in Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS ( Note 4) countries and from 4.2 per cent to 4.1 per cent in non-EU countries in Western Europe ( Note 5). During 2004, employment grew by only 2 million (or 0.5 per cent) in the Europe and Central Asia region as a whole despite GDP growth of 3.5 per cent, the report said. Thereby the employment intensity of growth worsened compared to 2003 when GDP growth of 2.2 per cent led to employment growth of 0.4 per cent.

Though the current unemployment rate in the EU-25 is lower than the 11.2 per cent rate of a decade ago, it remains considerably higher in the emerging countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS states where it increased from a level of 6.5 per cent in 1994. In non-EU countries in Western Europe, unemployment remained almost static over the ten years at just above 4 per cent.

With the exception of the latter countries, unemployment rates in the other regions are higher than the world on average.

However, an analysis of labour market indicators in the region also noted that despite the somewhat stagnant evolution of employment and unemployment, labour productivity (measured as output per person employed) showed considerable improvement, especially in Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS countries, where it increased by an annual average growth rate of over 4 per cent over the past 5 years. The EU-25 also saw higher productivity growth than the world on average during this period, mainly driven by the performance of the new member States.

In Europe and Central Asia, the ILO noted that several countries in the region appeared to have succeeded in sustaining low levels of unemployment and high labour market participation rates, without an acceleration of inflation or a worsening of income inequality. The ILO report for its 7th European Regional Conference ( Note 6) says social dialogue has played a pivotal role in balancing social pressure with economic constraints and joins with the EU Employment Taskforce in calling for increased flexibility and security for workers and enterprises, attracting more people to the labour market, investing more and more effectively in human capital, and ensuring the effective implementation of reforms through better governance in order to deal with the employment issue.

For more information

Gender, globalization, governance and migration were among the most discussed issues in Budapest. For a background look at each of these issues and others, as well as photos and four films prepared for the meeting, see www.ilo.org/communication and click on Events and Campaigns.

Note 1 - The region of Europe and Central Asia includes: EU-25, Western Europe (non-EU), Eastern Europe and CIS economies (including Turkey and Israel).

Note 2 - Global Employment Trends Brief, February 2005, and Supplement for Europe and Central Asia, February 2005, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2005. For more information, see www.ilo.org/trends.

Note 3 - See footnote 1.

Note 4 - Including Turkey and Israel.

Note 5 - Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

Note 6 - 7th European Regional Meeting, Report of the Director-General, Vol. II: Managing transitions: Governance for decent work, pp 16-17, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2005. www.ilo.org/europe.