The July 7 tube and bus bombings prevented Mr Blunkett from participating in a troika meeting held that afternoon with Austrian and Finnish officials representing the next two EU presidencies. But after meeting ministers for dinner the previous evening, he opened a plenary meeting attended by all delegates on July 8 to kick off the general debate. This was followed by guided group visits of ministers to two facilities in Belfast that help the long-term unemployed and other job-seekers back into work.

Afternoon sessions at the informal were subsequently broken down into three working groups featuring presentations from individual ministers, as well as from representatives of the UK governments Department of Works and Pensions. These focused on young people, older workers and the economically inactive and hard to reach. oThe real focus was on the exchange of best practiceo, Commission spokeswoman Katharina von Schnurbein said as the event came to a close. oFor example we just heard a very interesting presentation about a 100 days programme for young unemployed people in Sweden. Once a young person becomes unemployed there, they get a special counsellor after two weeks who helps guide them back into employment within 100 dayso. The conference on the inactive, often people who have been out of the labour force for years due to disability or other compensation payments, meanwhile featured a presentation on boosting social enterprises from the Finnish delegate, Tarja Filatov. Both Mr Blunkett and officials from the UKs Department of Works and Pensions were keen to stress that the goal of the meeting was not to blow the UKs trumpet and laud its comparatively better employment figures over other member states. oMr Blunkett has been very constructive and welcoming of contributions from all participantso, Ms von Schnurbein said, adding that Messrs Spidla and Blunkett seemed to work very well together and appreciate each others ideas and style of putting them forward.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Spidla on July 8, Mr Blunkett said it was important to think in terms of onot how we can sweep away but build our strength up on the challenges of recent yearso. The informal ministerial meeting would serve to orecognise the communality in solutionso and owill feed into the (informal employment) summito, he added. oWe believe that the best form of welfare is worko, he said, while stressing that the second part of the overall discussion was...

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