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 The Big Issues: Reports by commitment

The EU follow up to the last UN World Summits

Mirjam van Reisen

EUROSTEP was involved in the preparations of the Social Summit and the Beijing Conference. The ‘Quality Benchmark for the Social Summit’ was endorsed by EUROSTEP, because it outlined an agenda for gender sensitive social development, that the network subscribed to. The crucial point of the Benchmark was that genderized social policies could not be addressed outside the framework of macroeconomic policies.

The ‘Benchmark’ became a yardstick for deciding on action during the preparatory process. EUROSTEP was glad to see that the agenda set by the Benchmark appeared clearly in the Social Summit Declaration and Plan of Action as well as in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

In our view the Copenhagen and Beijing documents, signed onto by the international community, are an important basis to measure the quality of any activity in the area of social development and gender equality. During the follow up of the two conferences EUROSTEP has, therefore, looked at the way in which the European Union and its member states have contributed to an implementation of the strategies proposed in the documents in order to reach the objectives set out in the declaration.

The article focuses on the development aspects, although these are assessed within the broader framework of European policies relating to the Summit and the Conference including domestic policies. Emphasis is given to the framework set in the European Community. There are three motivations for doing so.

First of all, the Maastricth Treaty provided for new regulations concerning the Community’s social, economic and development policies, altering the relationships between national level and Community responsibilities and obligations. The greater cooperation and coordination in the European Community in all these areas of policy reflect the preparation for a European Monetary Union.

Secondly, these preparations, which are based on common criteria for entering the Monetary Union, seriously affect the decision–making powers of national administrations. Increasingly decisions at common European level are impacting heavily on the design of macro–economic and social policies. Meanwhile the search for new viable domestic policies within the European Union have led to a desire for more supportive external policies at a common European level. At present the direction for these European domestic policies are supported by European external policies. Changes in the external policies in all regions result from objectives set in the framework of domestic macro–economic and social policies.

Thirdly, the followup of the conference has, by and large, been initiated by the Commission. National governments in most countries have been awaiting proposals from the Commission, in order to determine specific national followup strategies.

The Changing Face of the European Union

At present the European Union consists of 15 Member States. Since the Maastricht Treaty, ratified in November 1993, there is considerable confusion as to what the European Union and the European Community respectively represent. The United Nations will tend to consider the European Community as an organization for regional integration, or even as an intergovernmental body. In most bodies and institutions of the UN the EC has, therefore, only observer status. The exceptions are the FAO and GATT/WTO, where the European Community has member status. The reason is that in these areas, agriculture and trade, the European Commission has full competence to represent the interests of the Member States to take initiatives, to take decisions and to implement common policies. 1

The European Community, however, also takes action in other policy areas, such as social policy and the environment. In some areas powers have been transferred by the Member States to the European Community. Moreover Council Directives and Resolutions have been adopted by the European Member States and the European Commission that further elaborate common actions undertaken by the 15. The Maastricht Treaty further extended areas of Community activity to development cooperation, common commercial policy, the interface between common commercial policy and the interface between the commercial policy, justice and home affairs cooperation.2 In these areas the Community is determined to assert ‘its identity on the international scene’3 The area of equal opportunity is a mixed competence between the Community and the Member States. The Treaty provides further for much greater intergovernmental cooperation between the Member States in the common foreign and security policy. This allows for ‘joint actions’ of the Member States; also in both ‘pillars’ of joint cooperation, common positions are not only politically binding but also legally binding.4

The coordination in the European Union is not organized in a consistent fashion at present.5 In some areas of representation, for instance in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, the European Community takes full participation, emphasizing the acknowledgement of common interest between the Member States. However, the representation of the European Union within the International Labour Organization is still not resolved due to difficulties in achieving an agreed common coordination of Member States.

The European Community received full participant status at the Major UN Conferences, including the Social Summit and the Beijing Conference. Even though the Commission was asked to play a role in achieving European common positions, the Commission could not negotiate on behalf of the Member States –as it can do in the GATT/WTO. The European delegations were led by the European Presidencies.6

In terms of follow up the European Commission has prepared a number of relevant communications.7 These can concern the policies of the Commission alone or also include the individual Member States. Resolutions8 and directives9 of the Council do apply to the Member States as well.

European Union Priorities for the Social Summit

The basic analysis underpinning the European Union position to the Social Summit was that the increase of economic growth contributes to job creation, which leads to a reduction in poverty and, therefore, reduces social exclusion. The progressive liberalization of international trade will increase economic growth, and so enhance social policies, both in developing countries and in Europe. In line with this the European Union chose on the one hand, to address "the fundamental problems of high unemployment in Europe, poverty, social exclusion, and social needs in a post–industrial context", and on the other, to fulfil "its role as an international player and as a major economic and cooperation partner of the developing countries".10

The instructions for the delegation further defined the main ‘thrust’ of European Union policy that ought to be upheld, namely "openness to multilateral trade and a desire to improve access to the Community market so as to help developing countries gain a foothold in the world economy, maintaining a stable and coherent macro–economic framework accompanied by structural measures to ensure that economic growth is sustainable and creates jobs; a sustained high standard of living, good social protection and solidarity, notably towards the unemployed, the excluded and women." The social clause was deemed "particularly worthy of discussion".11

Before the last PrepCom in January 1995 the priority for job creation became even more pronounced: "The EU has set out to bridge the gap between the various economic and social policies by singling out employment as a new priority."12 At the same time, the objectives were now clearly geared towards an international framework at multilateral and bilateral level. Among others, it was proposed to have a guarantee of working conditions included in the work of the WTO on international trade. It also made proposals for social development policies to be included in the structural adjustment policies of the IMF and the World Bank.13

Followup to the Social Summit

At present the Commission is setting out a plan for followup of the Social Summit. It focuses on particular areas, and actions presented are not new. Most of them are already part of ongoing policy. the following proposals are, among others, being discussed:

1. "Employment" will remain the priority of the European economic and social policies, through implementation of the guidelines adopted by the European Summit in Essen, by, inter alia, the creation of employment through growth, the reduction of indirect labour costs and the improvement of the efficiency of the labour market;

2. To ensure more intensive cooperation between the ILO, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.

3. ECOSOC to ensure a coordinated followup of the various UN conferences, assisted by the Commission for Social Development.

4. Reference in the Bilateral Agreements to the Social Summit and to the respect for basic social and labour rights, including ILO Conventions, particularly to those of forced labour, children’s labour and the principle of non discrimination.

5. To give preference in granting of aid and commercial preferences to countries that respect basic social and labour rights.

6. Integration of poverty in development actions through systematic assessments of the poverty situation in the recipient country. These should take into account national policies aimed at reducing poverty and reducing inequality, indicators of public expenditure in social services as a proportion of other non–productive expenditure and an appreciation of the access to productive activities, especially for women.

7. Improvement of the analytical capacity to improve the system of evaluations of its programmes to assess the impact on poverty.

8. To open a debate in 1996 in the European Union on Social exclusion and to make this a priority of the European Social Fund, with the objective of combating unemployment.

9. The encouragement of Member States to respect the Convention of Migrant Workers and their Families and to facilitate migrant workers to work in other European countries.

10. The Commission has adopted a Communication on Racism and Xenophobia and the Council has proposed to design 1997 as the ‘European Year against Racism’. The Madrid European Council instructed a Consultative Commission to complete a factibility study for a European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in time for the European Council meeting in June 1996.

11. In order to include civil society the Commission will organize every 18 months a European Forum with social partners and NGOs to debate social policies, the first one to be held in March 1996.

12. On a Dutch initiative an expert meeting will be organized in April 1996 in Oslo (Norway) on the 20:20 compact.14

13. In 1997 and 1999 expert meetings will be held to follow the evolution of principal issues on social development covering internal and external aspects of the European Union policies, in the light of the special session of the UN General Assembly and the examination of the implementation of the Programme of Action in the year 2000.

Beijing Preparations and Followup

In the Beijing Conference the key principles maintained by the European Union were: the recognition of women’s human rights as an inalienable integral and indivisible part of the universal human rights; women as dynamic actors, not victims; equal access of women to economic opportunities and resources; equal participation of women in decision–making, publicly and privately; violence against women; solidarity against exclusion and poverty; the eradication of gender gaps in access to basic services; solidarity with other regions and development co–operation. The priorities remained formulated at a very general level until the end.15

In terms of achievements of the Beijing Conference the European Commission reported that specific progress was made in the field of human rights in the sense that cultural specificity clauses were not so strong; the conflict over ‘equality’ or ‘equity’ in the relationship between women and men was resolved in favour of ‘equality’. Reproductive rights went further than in Cairo to include matters related to women’s sexuality.16

In terms of followup the Commission is planning to bring out a Communication on International Women’s Day, the 8th of March 1996. In the area of Women and Development, regional followup meetings with NGOs in different continents are planned in the coming year, organized in cooperation with Women in Development Europe (WIDE).

European Directives and Resolutions

In order to assess the followup of the two conferences it is necessary to compare the commitments made in these conferences with current commitments or political and legal obligations of the Community and its Member States.

Within the European Union the issue of Equal Opportunities and the issue of Employment are top priorities, also singled out as key objectives for the Social Summit and the Beijing Conference. During the European Summits in Essen, Cannes and Madrid the Council agreed that "the fight against unemployment and for equal opportunities remains the most important task facing the European Union and its Member States."17 This has been clearly reflected in the way in which a European framework of political and legal principles has been shaped that underlie the implementation of policies towards that objective. In terms of External Cooperation some important progressions have been made in including gender as well as a social development dimensions into the principles of development policies. It is important to note, however, that these are much less binding than the principles adopted in the field of employment and equal opportunities.


1 European Commission, “The European Union Facing the Challenges of the 4th World Conference on Women, Office of Official Publications, 1995, CC–90–95–485–EN –C.

2 Under the Maastricht Treaty common foreign and security policy, justice and home affairs were placed under intergovernmental ‘pillars’.

3 Maastricht Treaty.

4 European Commission “Commission Report for the Reflection Group, Intergovernmental Conference 1996”. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1995, CC–89–95–357–EN–C.

5 This year the Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) will be held with the aim to resolve some pressing questions in the area of cooperation, coordination, competence, division of responsibilities and decision–making procedures in the European Union.

6 France in Copenhagen and Spain in Beijing. During both events the European Union Member States conformed to a single European Union position.

7 A Communication to the European Council and the European Parliament is a formal mechanism for the Commission to express its opinion and make proposals on a specific issue to the Council and Parliament.

8 A Resolution of the Council is a formal decision taken by the Council of Ministers. It is not binding on the Member States or the Commission.

9 A Directive of the Council is a European law taken by the Council of Ministers. It is binding on the European Commission and the Member States.

10 Commission staff paper for the Preparatory Committee Meeting 22 August – 2 September, p.5, 20–30.

11 Ibid, pp. 5–7.

12 Communication de la Comission au Conseil et au Parlement sur les Priories de l’Union Europeenne au Sommet Mondial Pour le Developement Social (Copenhagen, Mars 1995, Communication de M. Marin et M. Flynn, 20 December 1994, COM(94)479.

13 The Economic and Social Committee expressed a similar opinion, emphasizing the importance of a social clause: "(...) an approach which has nothing in common with protectionism. On the contrary, widespread application of these principles would boost trade by ensuring that all workers enjoy equal basic rights and consumers have reasonable guarantees that the goods they purchase have not been produced under inhumane working conditions." Opinion on the World Summit for Social Development, Official Journal of the European Communities, 2.5.95, No. C110/48.

14 A paper is being prepared by UN specialized agencies, the World Bank, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, Bangladesh, Uganda and Chile; European participation is expected from Germany, Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Switzerland and Finland.

15 Commission of the European Communities, Commission Staff Working Paper on the participation by the European Union in the Fourth World Conference on Women; Action for Equality, Development and Peace, Brussels, 10.0201995, SEC(95)247; Commission of the European Communities, Communication of the Commission to the Council, A New Partnership between Men and Women; Equal Sharing and Participation. The Priorities of the European Community for the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, Brussels, 29.05.1995, COM(95)221 final.

16 European Commission, Evaluation Report, Fourth World Conference on Women, Equality, Development and Peace, internal report 1995.

17 Madrid European Council, 15 and 16 December 1995, Presidency Conclusions, 16.12.1995, SN 400/95 EN



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