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European Commission - Fact Sheet

EU social dialogue: Questions and Answers

Brussels, 04 March 2015

Why is there a need for a 'new start for social dialogue'?

At EU level, social dialogue was launched in 1985 at Val Duchesse by former Commission President Jacques Delors with the leaders of the social partners at European level. Developing and fostering social dialogue is an essential element of the European social model and anchored in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (articles 152-155). Over the last 30 years, European social dialogue has produced joint positions between the social partners which have led on several occasions to new European legislation in the employment and social fields.

However, in recent years the economic crisis has put national industrial relations systems under severe strain. At European level, divergences have become apparent between the social partners, especially regarding the causes of the crisis and the economic policy responses. This has led to a situation where social dialogue at EU level is performing below its potential and not contributing as much as it could to EU policy making.

As EU economic governance was strengthened in the immediate aftermath of the financial and economic crisis, a greater role for social dialogue is needed to contribute to national reform programmes and to accompany the implementation of reforms in the Member States.

Taking account of these circumstances, President Juncker during his intervention in front of the European Parliament last July committed to give a fresh impetus to social dialogue. Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Thyssen have been made responsible for the promotion and strengthening of social dialogue at all levels. They met with the leaders of the EU cross-industry social partners on 17 November 2014 and announced the organisation of a high level conference to give a new start to social dialogue 30 years after the foundations of social dialogue at European level were laid.

Who will participate in the high level event on 5 March?

The event will gather more than 400 participants. Main participants are the leaders of EU social partners' organisations at cross-industry and sectoral level and of national social partners' organisations, as well as the Commission President, Vice-President Dombrovskis, Commissioner Thyssen and Members of the European Commission, the President of the European Parliament and the Minister of Welfare of Latvia.

Further participants include representatives from other EU institutions, bodies and agencies, representatives of Member States, international institutions and think tanks.


What will be discussed at the high level event of 5 March?

The Commission, together with the EU social partners, has identified six key themes that could be at the core of the 'new start for social dialogue'. These themes are:

  • Improving social partners’ involvement in the European Semester
  • Strengthening industrial relations and capacity building at national level
  • The EU’s macro-economic strategy and the need for investing in growth and quality jobs
  • Exploiting the full potential of the digital single market
  • Social dialogue and better regulation
  • Skills, education and training needs in anticipation of a changing working environment

For each of these themes leaders of both employers' and trade union organisations will discuss in the presence of a Member of the Commission how to strengthen the role of social dialogue, at EU and/or national level.

How will social partners be better involved in economic governance?

In the Annual Growth Survey 2015 (IP/14/2235) the Commission committed to a better association of the social partners in the European Semester process and this involvement should take place at both European and national levels. The Commission already advocates strongly that national reform programmes are, in line with national practices, consulted with national social partners. In this year’s new process, the Commission will discuss the country analysis from the Country reports directly with both EU level and national social partner organisations.

Social partners and the Commission will examine as part of the 'new start for social dialogue' how the better association of social partners at both EU and national level can be further supported. This will include the use of EU funding, such as the European Social Fund, since special attention will be paid to strengthening industrial relations and social dialogue at national level and enhancing the impact at national level of EU social dialogue outcomes.

How will the contribution of social partners to EU policy making be strengthened?

In line with its Treaty obligations, the Commission consults and will continue to actively promote the consultation of social partners in EU policy-making, respecting their autonomy.

The involvement of social partners includes their formal consultation before any legislative initiative planned by the Commission in the social policy area (Article 153 TFEU). The Commission will also continue to consult them on other initiatives, which have a direct or indirect impact on employment, and that have a particular interest for the social partners.

As part of the 'new start for social dialogue' the Commission and social partners will examine whether and if so how social partners could be involved in further initiatives addressing the key challenges Europe is facing such as the Digital Single Market, the Energy Union, industrial policy, migration, transport policies, justice and human rights and trade policy.

The 'new start for social dialogue' will also represent the occasion to address the relationship between the Commission's better regulation agenda and the implementation of social partners' agreements by means of EU law, while fully respecting the autonomy of social partners.

What will be the follow-up to the high-level conference of 5 March?

The high-level conference of 5 March kicks off a dialogue where the Commission and the social partners will determine how to come to concrete results on the themes discussed during the conference. This calls for a renewed partnership between social partners and the EU institutions to focus on a number of priorities to promote growth and create jobs. This should lead to an enhanced contribution of social partners to the Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change. This concerns in particular the stronger involvement of social partners at EU and national level in economic governance and in EU policy-making in general, including in areas beyond employment and social policies.

The best use will be made of existing fora, such as:

  • The Social Dialogue Committee, which is the main forum for EU bipartite (autonomous) social dialogue at cross-industry level.
  • Sectoral social dialogue committees which provide a forum for discussion and consultation on employment and social policy proposals in currently 43 economic sectors, covering more than 75% of the EU workforce.

A first occasion to examine how to step up the contribution of social partners to growth and creating jobs will be the Tripartite Social Summit of 19 March. The Tripartite Social Summit meets twice a year, ahead of the spring and autumn European Councils. It is a significant opportunity for an exchange of views between European employer and employee representatives, the Commission, the President of the European Council and the Heads of Government and employment ministers of the current and subsequent two Council Presidencies.

What is the situation of social dialogue at national level?

Every two years the Commission services present an overview of trends and developments in the collective relationsbetween workers, employers and their respective representatives in the Member States, including the tripartite dimension where public authorities at different levels are involved. The eighth edition of this overview on Industrial relations in Europe published this week confirms that social dialogue and industrial relations in Europe are at a crossroads. While it is clear that in some Member States social dialogue has suffered from the crisis, the report also provides unambiguous evidence that those Member States with strong and vibrant industrial relations are among the most competitive and socially resilient economies in the world. Beyond the findings of Industrial Relations in Europe 2014, further information on industrial relations in the Member States can be found on the website of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working conditions, Eurofound.



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