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Glossary

Social dialogue

Social dialogue is the term used to describe the negotiations conducted by the social partners in order to defend the interests of their members.

Social dialogue contributes to the development of European social policy. The social partner organisations are involved in discussions, consultations, negotiations and joint actions conducted at European level, in addition to those conducted at national level.

This dialogue was started by the European Commission in 1985, and recognised by the Single European Act. Its functioning was defined in the Agreement on social policy annexed to the Treaty of Maastricht, and then integrated into the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Treaty of Lisbon recognises the importance of the role of the social partners at European level. The European Union (EU) facilitates social dialogue by respecting the autonomy of the social partners.

European social dialogue may be either:

  • tripartite: conducted by the social partners and the European institutions. The parties meet during the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment;
  • bipartite: conducted between employer organisations and trade unions.

European social dialogue may be either:

  • cross-industry; in this context the social partners meet to discuss any issues relating to the economy as a whole, specifically at a Tripartite Social Summit or in a Commission for Social Dialogue.
  • sectoral; the social partners meet according to their sector of activity in Sectoral Dialogue Committees.

The Commission promotes consultation of the social partners and facilitates their dialogue. It consults them on all legislative proposals concerning employment and social affairs. (Article 154 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU)). Following this consultation, the partners can negotiate agreements that can be implemented independently according to their national practices, or request their implementation through a Council decision. (Article 155 TFEU).

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