Position:Vladimir Spidla

In his opening address, Mr Spidla stressed "the need to build partnerships which will allow restructuring to be anticipated and managed more effectively". Directives that deal with restructuring, including the transfers of undertakings Directive, the information and consultation Directive and the European works council Directive, are crucial in this context, he added. "The Community-scale undertakings between them have 750 European works councils representing over 13 million employees", he said.

In this context, in March the Commission launched the second stage of consultations with the social partners on company restructuring and European works councils. Common 'guidelines' were created in the first round, and Mr Spidla said the time was now right to go further. The Commission is therefore urging European social partners to negotiate an agreement on three key issues: how restructuring guidelines can be implemented in concrete terms; how the role of the European works councils can be developed; and how training, mobility and capacity to anticipate restructuring can be improved. A tripartite Social Summit, due to be held at the next Spring European Council in 2006, will provide the perfect opportunity to "take stock and measure progress", he added.

The forum on restructuring and employment will meanwhile "provide a vehicle for exchanging analysis and best practice", Mr Spidla said. He envisions the forum holding two theme-based sessions per year, prepared in advance by restricted working groups. "Upcoming themes could be the role of the regions in anticipating and accompanying restructuring, industrial policy, the external dimension and the link between innovation and job creation", he suggested.

Employers' and SME representatives express concerns.

But UNICE, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe, and UEAPME, the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, both seemed sceptical, to say the least, about the Commission's new 'forum' concept. "UNICE has strong reservations about the creation of an additional forum", UNICE Secretary-General Philippe de Buck told the forum, also warning that the social partners at EU level could not be expected to solve every problem.

Mr de Buck gave three reasons for questioning the need for the restructuring forum. Firstly, the social consequences of restructuring should be managed at the local, as opposed to the European level. Secondly, while exchanges of...

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