Belgium urged to create bold work agenda for EU jobless

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Series Details Vol 7, No.17, 26.4.01, p6
Publication Date 26/04/2001
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Date: 26/04/01

By Peter Chapman

BELGIUM was urged this week to signal an end to old-style policies designed to protect jobs at all costs when it takes over the presidency of the EU.

Instead, it should concentrate on getting Europe's 14 million jobless off the dole, the spokesman for the UK's industry told European Voice.

Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said Belgium should push a bold new agenda from day one - even if this meant rejecting old policies which traditionally place the greatest priority on worker protection.

"The entire social policy appears to be designed to protect those in work," said the CBI chief, adding: "As business restructures itself...let's use the time to prepare people for a different job.

"I would like the Belgian Presidency to concentrate far more on 'how do we create new jobs in the EU?' and 'how do we get a small or medium-sized company to be encouraged to take on a new person?" he said.

Reform is absolutely vital if the EU is to make it easier for companies to create new jobs and for workers to re-skill and switch from old dying industries to new dynamic ones. This could be partly achieved through greater emphasis on lifelong learning and on-the-job training schemes, he said.

Jones called for policies to support dynamic small firms which were "far more likely" than multinationals to soak up unemployment in the Union.

Moves to boost access to capital and lessen the regulatory burden would be welcomed by industry, he said.

New job-friendly policies need to be carried through if the EU is to welcome members from eastern Europe - where economies rely heavily on outmoded heavy industry and agriculture, added Jones.

The CBI chief, in Brussels to launch an initiative aimed at boosting small companies, said the failure to push job creation was not just the fault of Sweden, which holds the current EU presidency. Instead he attacked the Union as a whole for failing to live up to the promises made at the Lisbon summit last year, when leaders pledged to make wide-ranging reforms to transform the EU into the world's most competitive economy.

"Talking the talk is fine - but it is walking the walk that matters. We are looking for governments to walk the walk more," he said.

His comments will be seen by some as a criticism of the stance taken by France, which this week announced measures to make it more expensive for companies to sack workers after a public outcry over closures announced by clothing retailer Marks & Spencer and food giant Danone.

Belgium has been urged to signal an end to old-style policies designed to protect jobs at all costs when it takes over the presidency of the EU in July 2001.

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