The social policy agenda at EU level has been successfully shaped with the “Key challenges facing European labour markets: a joint analysis of European social partners” published in November 2007. This flowed into the framework agreement on inclusive markets adopted in March 2010. This framework agreement underlines the shared objective of making it easier for people to gain access to, return to and stay in the labour market, and further developing the labour market. In addition, the agreement sets out concrete examples of how social partners can provide active support in this regard.
In June 2013 the European social partners reached agreement on declaration on appropriate involvement of social partners in the new coordination processes in the framework of the European Semester. For each of the different procedural steps of the European Semester to be carried out every year – annual growth report, national reform programmes and country-specific recommendations – the declaration makes concrete proposals on how social partners should be consulted both at European level by Commission and Council and at national level by governments.
The joint work programme of the Social Dialogue 2012-2014 contains the following themes:
- Analysis of the functioning of labour markets in Europe
- Youth unemployment
- Equal treatment of men and women
- Education and lifelong learning
- Mobility and economic migration
- Better implementation and consequences of Social Dialogue instruments
- Capacity-building in social partner organisations in central, eastern and southern Europe
- Economic and social governance in the EU
The European social dialogue comprises several possibilities for shaping EU regulation. Employers have on several occasions had recourse to the possibility offered by European social dialogue based on article 155 TFEU (formerly article 139 EC) whereby employers negotiate rules jointly with the trade unions in areas where the European Commission has legislative plans. In this way, the European social partner organisations BUSINESSEUROPE, CEEP and ETUC have negotiated the content of directives on parental leave, part-time work and fixed-term contracts in the form of autonomous framework agreements.
The outcome is that these directives whose content is determined by the social partners are formulated in a way that is very much more employment- and business-friendly than if the Commission and the European Parliament had taken the reins.
Open the way for practical business solutions
A further possibility for shaping European social policy is offered by “voluntary framework agreements” of the European social partners which are voluntarily transposed by national employer and trade union organisations, in line with traditions in their own countries. In the voluntary framework agreements on tele-working, on stress at work and on harassment and violence at work, companies identified approaches to enable companies to deal with these issues in a practical manner tailored to their individual situation, in order simultaneously to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and costs. In this context, there were no binding procedures for national implementation: national social partners are expected to follow their own national, sectoral and company-level traditions and circumstances.
Learning from each other in a process of exchanging “good practice” and hence contributing with minimum bureaucracy to a practical shaping of the social dimension of the EU, the European social partners have developed the instrument known as the “voluntary action framework”. On the basis of practical business examples submitted jointly by employer and worker representatives, both problems and constructive and where possible innovative solutions and priorities for action are identified.