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Social policy


The Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the social dimension of the European Union (EU). It recognises the social values of the Union in the founding Treaties and includes new objectives for social matters.

However, the competences of the EU in this area remain largely unchanged. The Treaty of Lisbon introduces a few innovations, but the development and implementation of social policies remains principally the responsibility of Member States.


The full recognition of social objectives in the founding Treaties is not just of symbolic significance. It also involves better integration of social objectives at the development and implementation stage of European policies in general.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon amends three articles of the founding Treaties in order to clarify and strengthen the EU’s social objectives:

  • Article 3 of the Treaty on EU henceforth includes full employment, social progress, the fight against social exclusion and social protection among the Union’s objectives;
  • Article 9 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU specifies that a high level of employment, adequate social protection and the fight against social exclusion should be taken into account in the development and implementation of Union policies;
  • Article 152 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU establishes the role of social partners in the EU; in addition, it recognises the contribution to social dialogue made by the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment, which brings together representatives from the Council, the Commission and social partners.

Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon recognises the legal value of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The Charter henceforth has binding powers and can be cited in legal proceedings. This recognition constitutes an advance in social matters as the Charter ensures the social rights of persons resident in EU territory:

  • the workers' right to information and consultation within the undertaking (Article 27 of the Charter);
  • the right of bargaining and the right to strike (Article 28 of the Charter);
  • the right of access to placement services (Article 29 of the Charter);
  • the right of protection in the event of unjustified dismissal (Article 30 of the Charter);
  • the right to fair and just working conditions (Article 31 of the Charter);
  • the prohibition of child labour and the protection of young people at work (Article 32 of the Charter);
  • reconciling family and professional life (Article 33 of the Charter);
  • social security (Article 34 of the Charter);
  • health care (Article 35 of the Charter).


Social policy forms part of the shared competences between the EU and Member States. However, social policies are implemented more effectively at Member State level than at European level. In this way, and in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the role of the EU in this area is limited to supporting and complementing the activities of Member States.

The Treaty of Lisbon keeps this system of division of competences. In addition, it maintains the adoption of texts in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure for the majority of social policy measures.

However, for certain measures, unanimous Council voting with consultation of the European Parliament is maintained and the Treaty of Lisbon includes the specific bridging clause which had been introduced by the Treaty of Nice (Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU). This bridging clause authorises the Council to decide unanimously to apply the ordinary legislative procedure to the following areas:

  • protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated;
  • representation and collective defence of workers and employers;
  • conditions of employment for third-country nationals legally residing in Union territory.

Finally, the Treaty of Lisbon introduces two innovations:

  • qualified majority voting is extended to measures related to social benefits for migrant workers (Article 48 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU);
  • the open method of coordination has been institutionalised with the recognition that the Commission may undertake initiatives in order to encourage cooperation between Member States in the social domain and to facilitate the coordination of their actions. For example, these initiatives may take the form of studies or opinions with a view to establishing guidelines and indicators, and to organising the exchange of best practice with the organisation of a periodic evaluation (Article 156 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).
Last updated: 14.04.2010
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