Barroso1In the afternoon the EESC’s plenary session got under way with a visit from José Manuel Barroso, newly confirmed as the next Commission President and also fresh back from Pittsburgh. He had come to participate in  a debate about employment and vocational training in the context of the current economic crisis. Other guests for the debate included Eva Uddén Sonnegard, the Swedish Secretary of State for Employment, Bruno Coquet, President of the European Committee on Employment, and the Directors of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Aviana Maria Bulgarelli), the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Jorma Karppinen) and the OECD’s Director for Employment, John Martin. The conclusions from Pittsburgh were clear; recovery is going to take a few years yet. From the EU’s point of view, we must do what we can to maintain employment but, at the same time, we must think, in Barroso’s words, about ‘what sort of Europe we want to have when we come out of the end of the tunnel.’ Clearly, the Lisbon Strategy and its successor remain key foundations for such a vision. All speakers in the debate underlined the importance of mutual solidarity. Said Barroso; ‘we must work together or we’ll be navigating in a sea where the EU is marginalized.’ One observation that caught my ear, as it were, was made by Peter Clever (a German EESC member from the Employers’ Group) during the debate. Underlining the EU’s relative maturity this time around, he pointed out how what would previously have been a debate on the theme of ‘what are we going to do about unemployment?’ had become a debate on the theme ‘what are we going to do to stop people losing their jobs?’ Or, as Minister Sonnegard put it, ‘Social Europe begins with a job.’