EU looks for new jobs

EU labor and social affairs ministers met in the picturesque town of Nafplion in the eastern Peloponnese yesterday and on Thursday to discuss policies aimed at helping the EU meet its goal of having 70 percent of the economically active population employed by 2010. Limiting early retirement, controlling illegal labor and finding a balance between «flexibility and security» were among the measures discussed. The European Employment Strategy is to be agreed on at the EU’s spring council on March 21. The informal meeting in what was a young independent Greece’s capital from 1828-34 was also the Greek EU presidency’s first test in dealing with protests that have been scheduled for almost every meeting involving EU officials, culminating in the summit at Halkidiki near Thessaloniki near the end of Greece’s term in June. Three separate marches were scheduled by groups protesting against globalization, EU labor policy and the threat of war in Iraq and organizers said they expected about 10,000 demonstrators yesterday. This had prompted the government to send 2,000 police officers to guard the meeting. But heavy rain kept many people away and the greatest excitement was caused by a group of about 500 police officers and firefighters demanding higher wages and better working conditions. They fought their way through the cordon set up by their riot squad colleagues and took their protest to the foot of the hill on which a luxury hotel hosted the meeting. Overnight, anti-war protesters hung two huge banners from the Venetian-era fortress crowning the steep hill. Despite authorities’ fears, the protests were mostly peaceful. Only one group of about 40 self-proclaimed anarchists, which tagged on to the march by the Communist-led Pan-Labor Front (PAME) caused a disturbance. They beat up a television cameraman, who was treated for slight injuries, and broke windows at a branch of the ruling PASOK party and and insurance company storefront in the town’s old section. Hosting the meeting, Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas said the Greek presidency’s priorities were: «Full and sustainable employment, quality and productivity at work, cohesive and inclusive labor markets.» This would involve absorbing immigrants, attracting more women into the labor market and providing more opportunities for older workers. Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulos said, «Many people are in danger of being left out because of economic and social restructuring. Their successful absorption into the labor market remain the basic method of social assimilation.»

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