ABSTRACT

Introduction This chapter presents a critical analysis of the European Employment Strategy (EES), considering the evolution of its formulation since its launch in 1997. The purpose is to verify whether the pursuit of the quantitative target in terms of an increase in the female employment rate has been matched by the pursuit of gender equality. The question investigated is whether the emphasis on gender equality and equal opportunities between women and men in the labour market – quite visible in the early formulation of the EES – reflects a concern with the pursuit of gender equality as a goal in itself, or whether gender equality in the labour market is conceived as a tool necessary for the achievement of the overall employment targets agreed at the EU level. Employment policy coordination at the EU level has been in place since the launch of the Luxembourg process in 1997, and it has been influential in reshaping policy thinking and inducing governments to implement policy reforms. The promotion of gender equality and equal opportunities was certainly high on the agenda in the initial phase of the EES. The ultimate goal of the EES, throughout the various reformulations since its inception, has been the achievement of an overall high level of employment in order to address the demographic challenge. As the large baby-boom cohorts born immediately after World War II enter retirement age, the number of people aged over 65 will increase significantly and the working age population will start to shrink. These changes in the population structure call for an enlargement of the employment base to ensure the future sustainability of welfare systems. And this necessarily implies a higher female employment rate. But if further integration of women into the labour market is to be promoted, gender inequalities must be tackled. In the early years, in fact, the visibility of the European Union’s commitment to gender equality in employment was high. However, the evolution in the formulation of the EES has resulted in a progressive loss of visibility by gender equality and equal opportunities, culminating in the final disappearance of gender mainstreaming (GM) in the latest reformulation. The chapter focuses on identifying the shifts in the way in which policies for gender equality in employment have been framed and represented over time in

European policy documents, in particular within the EES, rather than on identifying the direct and indirect impact of European policy recommendations at the Member State level. Ideas and policy discourse developed at the EU level matter. The Commission and the Council are responsible for developing ideas, making hypotheses and shaping the policy discourse. Though it is difficult to assess the influence of EES priorities on the policy formation at the national level, policy debates developed at the national level are subject to greater or lesser influence by the EES. Thus, it is important to question the EU strategy in promoting the employment of women to see to what extent the pursuit of gender equality in the labour market is seen as a goal of social justice with respect to women, or rather is simply a tool for achieving the goals of economic efficiency – identified in terms of raising the overall employment rate – for the economy as a whole. The chapter is structured in five sections. The next section presents the context within which the EES was developed. The third section analyses the development of the EES; four main phases are highlighted, showing the progressive loss of visibility of gender equality. The fourth section considers the value of gender equality issues in the EES through the individual recommendations issued over time to Member States. The fifth section presents some concluding remarks.