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Enhancing the contribution of European social dialogue in an enlarged Europe
The purpose of this Communication is to promote awareness and understanding of the results of the European social dialogue, to improve their impact and to promote effective interaction between different levels of industrial relations.
Communication from the Commission. Partnership for change in an enlarged Europe - Enhancing the contribution of European social dialogue [COM(2004) 557 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The European social model places great emphasis on the need for social dialogue. The purpose of this Communication is to promote awareness and understanding of the results of the European social dialogue, to improve their impact and to promote further developments based on effective interaction between different levels of industrial relations.
In addition, the enlargement of the EU also presents a challenge for the European social dialogue. Partnership will be of particular importance in managing the impact of continuing restructuring in these countries. Enlargement will also challenge the technical capacity of the European social partner organisations in the new Member States.
Following the Communications in 1998 on "Adapting and promoting the Social Dialogue at Community level" and in 2002 on "The European social dialogue, a force for innovation and change", and against the backdrop of the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy, the Commission feels that it is a good time to take stock of the European social dialogue.
The main challenge ahead is to improve quality in work with a view to positively managing all dimensions of economic, social and environmental change in order to ensure sustainable development and social cohesion. The Commission calls on the European and national social partners to take part in a genuine partnership for change by stepping up their efforts to address the issues identified below:
- improving adaptability through flexibility and security in the employment relationship;
- investing in human capital and job quality through increased investment in health and safety at work and offering appropriate access to training;
- attracting more people to the labour market in view of the future decline in the working age population.
If the European social partners are to make an effective contribution to achieving the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy, good interaction between the different levels of industrial relations is essential. The Commission urges the social partners and Member States to work together to reinforce the administrative capacities of national social partner organisations, for example through the possibilities provided by the structural funds - in particular the European Social Fund (ESF).
The results of the European social dialogue could therefore be improved by enhancing the synergies between the various sectors as well as between the European cross-industry and sectoral levels. For example, in the area of lifelong learning, some sectors (postal services, banking, cleaning industry) have referred to the cross-industry framework of actions.
The Commission also feels that the social partners could explore possible ways in which the European social dialogue and European works councils (EWCs) could complement one another. Increasingly, the range of issues being considered within EWCs is expanding beyond the core issues of company performance and employment to embrace subjects with a strong European dimension such as health and safety, equal opportunities, training and mobility, corporate social responsibility and environmental issues.
The Commission's role in supporting social dialogue
According to Article 138(1), the Commission has the task of promoting the consultation of management and labour at Community level. It must therefore take any relevant measure to facilitate their dialogue by ensuring balanced support for the parties. The Commission encourages the social partners to make use of the possibility for certain issues to be fleshed out through negotiations at all relevant levels and to step up support for the European social dialogue structures in the context of enlargement.
It is however important to note that, as the social partners are autonomous and social dialogue in the EU is based on the freedom of the right to association, capacity-building is essentially a bottom-up process depending on the efforts of the social partners themselves.
In order to identify the social partners to be consulted under Article 138 of the EC Treaty, the Commission carries out representativeness studies on the European organisations. It proposes that these studies should be carried out by the Dublin Foundation's European Industrial Relations Observatory.
The Commission will raise the profile of the European social dialogue and assist the social partners in following up their texts by:
- exploring ways of promoting the sharing of experience on follow-up practices;
- providing support for the social partners which will be accessible on the social dialogue website;
- reinforcing financial support for joint follow-up actions;
- organising national seminars in each Member State in order to raise awareness of the importance of the European social dialogue for national industrial relations.
The Commission considers there to be a need for a framework to help improve the consistency of the social dialogue outcomes and to improve transparency. It will examine the possibility of drawing up a more extensive framework.
The European social dialogue has evolved since it was introduced in 1985, and it is now well-established. Quantitatively, the work of the various social dialogue committees has resulted in the adoption of more than 300 joint texts by the social partners and they have undertaken many joint transnational projects. In qualitative terms, there has been a shift towards greater autonomy. This is reflected by the increasing adoption by the social partners of 'new generation' texts, characterised by the fact that they are to be followed up by the social partners themselves.
This evolution of the social dialogue is consistent with the Commission's efforts to improve European governance. The social dialogue is a pioneering example of improved consultation and the application of subsidiarity in practice.