Commission tries to boost social dialogue in the EU

The Commission publishes its initiative to strengthen social dialogue in the EU. The instruments chosen might have no real teeth. However, the initiative includes some potentially interesting elements.

The need to reinforce the social dialogue in the EU has been at the agenda for a long time. In the last years, this goal has been reaffirmed on several occasions by Member States, including in the 2021 European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and in the 2022 final report of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
While the need to strengthen social dialogue has been widely recognized, union membership and collective bargaining coverage has been declining continuously over the last decades.
On 25 January the Commission published its social dialogue initiative, whose aim is to strengthen social dialogue at both EU and national level.
In practice, the initiative consists of one proposal for a Council recommendation and a communication from the Commission. The recommendation to the member states provides inputs on how to boost social dialogue at national level; the communication explains how the Commission intends to do so at EU level.
To reach these goals, the initiative foresees the same set of policies both at EU and at national level:

  • supporting social partners agreements;
  • strengthening the involvement of social partners in policy making;
  • providing them with financial and technical support.

Of all available instruments, the Commission has chosen the two less binding types of acts. As its very name suggests, a recommendation is only a proposal for member states to act in a certain way – which excludes all enforcement mechanisms. The communication merely aims to inform the member states – in this case about actions the Commission intends to take. Since the EU’s competence in matters related with collective bargaining is very limited, the Commission had probably no choice but to use these instruments. Yet, it is questionable whether these will suffice to bring member states to act.
One can also note that many of the provisions of the initiative are already included in existing EU acts, such as those relating to the protection of workers’ representatives, to the involvement of social partners in policymaking and to the need to increase the collective bargaining coverage. If member states have not implemented these measures so far, why should they now be convinced by two non-binding acts?
Nonetheless, the initiative includes several potentially interesting elements. One is the appointment, in each Commission’s DG, of a social dialogue coordinator, who should ensure a closer involvements of social partners in EU policy making. Another one is the Commission’s commitment to develop a set of indicators to monitor the implementation of the recommendation. The last one is the commitment by the Commission to regularly monitor the implementation of the recommendation in the context of the European Semester. Should these three elements be pursued effectively, it would be a great step forward for social dialogue in the EU.

On this topic:
USO Seminar “The European Social Dialogue: a common commitment. Progress and setbacks in social dialogue regulations and trade union legislation”
8-10 February, Palma de Mallorca (Spain)