The Czechs are not expected to highlight the European Union's social policy and may put it on the back burner during their Presidency. Only in the context of a free labour market without barriers' is social policy seen as a priority. In this respect, the Czechs have identified four priorities: liberalisation of the free movement of workers; increase in employment and flexibility on the job market; horizontal support for families for whom free choice' should be paramount; and active inclusion of underprivileged people.

The two meetings of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) under the Czech Presidency, scheduled for 9-10 March and 8-9 June, have differently weighted agendas. The latter is far heavier, with 20 points, than the one in March. At the informal Council, on 22-24 January, the main topic will be the free movement of workers - a top priority for the Czechs. In addition, six thematic conferences on social policy are scheduled for the next six months.

The Czechs will push for greater mobility on Europe's labour market and during the spring European Council (19-20 March) they will aim to remove or "significantly reduce" transitional measures that are still in place for workers coming from some of the new member states. They stress the need for liberalisation of worker mobility to be "as broad as possible". They see a more flexible labour market being of benefit to the Lisbon strategy and helping to develop a more competitive Europe.

Increasing employment and flexibility of the job market is a second main priority. Here, the emphasis will lie on reinforcing the effectiveness of the labour market and developing quality human resources (in the light of the Lisbon strategy and flexicurity). The Czechs also intend to focus attention on the linkage between professional training and social protection during transitional professional periods.

The Czechs will look to identify which aspects of labour legislation reduce the EU's competitiveness. Particular attention will be given to implementing incentives for economic inactive people', such as women after maternity leave, the young, the unemployed and individuals over 50. They have to be "reintegrated rapidly" into the labour market. This could be achieved through education, active ageing policies and a better mix between work and family life. Encouraging more effective use of social protection measures and people to actively look for work are also priorities...

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