Summary: Heads of State and Government of the European Union, meeting as the European Council in Vienna on December 11, confirmed that the economic policy priorities at national and EU level had to be employment and the fight against exclusion. They also welcomed the Franco-German idea of a pact on employment, to complement the pact on stability and growth that was adopted at the Amsterdam Council in June 1997. But the content of the pact needs definition over the coming months - as do the discussions which bounced along on the surface here on Agenda 2000, on own resources, and on taxation.

Employment policy to the fore again. The President of the European Parliament, Jos Maria Gil-Robles, both caught and made something of the tone of the Vienna Summit as he told EU leaders in the opening moments of their meeting that "unemployment and social exclusion continue to be the bleeding wounds in Europe's social fabric". Similar thinking is evident in the joint Franco-German letter presented on the eve of the Summit, which suggests that, with the new employment guidelines, the Member States should commit themselves to "binding and verifiable objectives", which should include cuts in unemployment for young people and for the long-term unemployed. The spirit of the Franco-German letter goes further than the employment guidelines adopted at the special Luxembourg Jobs Summit in November 1997, which already contained some quantitative elements, including offering a fresh start to young people before they had been unemployed for six months, and for all adults before they had been unemployed for twelve months. For 1999, the Member States have agreed to retain the essence of their current guidelines, with some minor modifications. But Lionel Jospin said in Vienna he wanted to see a real multilateral surveillance mechanism - which the Member States have held back from putting into effect this year. So Paris is insisting that the EU should set clear common indicators to permit comparison between each country's unemployment data. The Commissioner responsible for economic and monetary affairs, Yves-Thibault de Silguy, said he would seek to speed up the work of Eurostat (the EU's Statistical Office) in this area to improve economic and social comparative data. He said the success of economic policies for the last several years will make it possible to create more than five million new jobs in 1996-2000 - largely compensating for the job-losses of the early...

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