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European Union/ European Employment and Social Policy

September 26, 2016

European employment and social policies make ihmportant contributions to prosperity and help provide better job opportunities.

Flags of different European countries
Source:  iStock

The Directorate of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social affairs which deals with the European Union/ European Employment and Social Policy works on European policies contributing to prosperity and inclusion, job opportunities, labour mobility and the social protection of people living in Germany. We help to make sure that new rules and measures create added-value for our citizens. We also aspire to striking a balance between economic, employment and social policies in an effort to promote social progress and cohesion.

The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is involved in the decision-making processes at the EU level effectively and at an early stage. We feed our concerns and positions on employment and social affairs into the law-making process and into political initiatives. This is done through the development of targeted courses of action and by closely and constantly coordinating our interests with the other European actors. Germany’s most important partners in this process are the other EU Member States in the Council, the Presidency of the Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament, civil society and the representatives of the social partners from business and labour. In addition, within our sphere of responsibility we also maintain regular bilateral contacts with embassies and with the labour and social affairs ministers of the other Member States.

The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is also responsible for coordinating the positions of the Federal Government on European initiatives in the field of labour and social affairs. By closely aligning our positions with the other Federal Ministries, we help to make sure that the Federal Government has a united position on European affairs. In this way, Germany speaks with one voice in Europe, giving weight to the interests of our citizens.

Actions to fight youth unemployment in Europe

In light of the high youth-unemployment rates in many Member States, the Youth Guarantee is a very important social-policy measure. The Youth Guarantee was adopted in April 2013 in the form of a Council Recommendation. In this recommendation, the Member States agreed on joint and coordinated actions in the fight against youth unemployment. According to the Youth Guarantee, all young people under 25 are to get a good-quality, concrete offer within 4 months of them leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. The Member States are putting the Youth Guarantee into practice on the basis of national implementation plans.

A pillar of social rights for EU citizens

Another example of European social-policy action is the plan for a European Pillar of Social Rights. The European Commission has proposed that Member States agree on a series of shared principles serving as a future guideline for social policies at the European and national levels. The idea behind this approach is to provide up-to-date answers to topical questions and challenges in the area of social policies.

The impact of EU legislation on national law

Decision-making in Europe does not stop once Brussels has reached a decision on new legislation such as directives, regulations or the European treaties. Directives must be incorporated into German law and existing national laws may not contradict European law. When disputes arise, the national courts, the European Commission and the Member States can refer the dispute to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which then rules on the case. Our directorate monitors and supports European court rulings and the interpretation of legislation. We brief the political leadership and senior officials of our Ministry on important cases and rulings and our counsel presents the positions of our Ministry during ECJ proceedings. When it becomes necessary to adapt national laws, we provide advice to those divisions in our Ministry which are responsible for implementing these changes. Moreover, we also serve as the point of contact for other divisions regarding all general questions pertaining to European law.

Mobility within the EU and from third countries to the EU

Mobility is one of the megatrends of our times. We look at this issue both from the perspective of labour mobility within the EU (the free movement of workers and the rights stemming from this principle) and from the perspective of third-country nationals migrating to the EU. In cooperation with other Directorates-General of our Ministry, our efforts are focussed on access rights and the impact of migration on the German labour market and on our social protection systems. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is responsible for the well-known social benefits under Book II of the German Social Code (for persons who are fit to work) and for those under Book XII (for persons unable to work), but also for the lesser-known Asylum Seekers Benefits Act.

German law limits the access of inactive EU citizens who have moved to Germany and are unable to provide for themselves to tax-financed benefits under Book II of the German Social Code. The ECJ reviewed these rules in three preliminary rulings: C-333/13 - Dano, C-67/14 - Alimanovic and C-299/14 - Garcia-Nieto et al.). Ultimately, it confirmed that German law in this area is compatible with European law.

The rights of EU citizens in other Member States

Some EU citizens use their right to free movement and live and work in another EU Member State, in a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) or in Switzerland. The EU helps to make sure that this step does not put them at unjustified disadvantages when it comes to their social protection, and especially when it comes to accrued rights. Germany is closely involved in designing the European rules which support these mobile workers and which are referred to as the coordination of social security systems.

For example, the pension rights EU citizens acquire in each Member State in which they pay into social security remain valid until they reach the retirement age. They will then receive pensions from these Member States.

What are your rights in countries which have concluded a social security agreement with Germany?

Germany’s integration into the global economy necessitates bilateral agreements on social security with other countries in order to guarantee persons who move to a country which has concluded a social security agreement with Germany adequate social protection and vice versa. Germany has concluded numerous such agreements.

The EU - a partner for the rest of the world

The EU is also a global actor that is becoming increasingly important. Much like Germany, the EU also has its foreign-policy interests and its own offices (delegations) in almost every country of the world. Within the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, our directorate coordinates the EU foreign-policy processes which fall within the area of responsibility of our Ministry and result in treaties between the EU and third countries or regions. When these treaties come into force, they become part of international law, which also has binding force on Germany through implementing legislation.

We also monitor and support the process of EU enlargement in the areas of the free movement of workers and labour and social affairs as well as association agreements with third countries which lead to close cooperation with these countries and prepare their possible accession to the EU.

TTIP, CETA, workers’ rights and social standards

Well-known examples of international treaties are the planned free trade agreements establishing a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the US, TTIP for short, and a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA for short. Regarding these agreements, we are working on making sure that the protection of workers and of German and EU social standards will be fully guaranteed in future, too, and that the agreements will not limit the future design of this protection.