How has (bipartite) social dialogue developed at European Union level?
According to 1957 Treaty of Rome, one of the tasks of the Commission was to promote close cooperation between Member States in the context of the right of association and collective bargaining between employers and employees. However, this decision was not implemented until many years later.
Established in 1985 on the initiative of Commission President Jacques Delors, the Val Duchesse Social Dialogue Process aimed to ensure the participation of the social partners represented by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Confederation of European Industrialists and Employers (UNICE) and the European Center for Public Enterprises (CEEP) in creating the internal market. The process resulted in a series of joint statements on employment, education and training and other social issues.
In 1986, the Single European Act (Art. 118b) created the legal basis for the development of “social dialogue at Community level”, and European social dialogue began to develop, notably with the creation of a steering committee, which in 1992 was transformed into the Social Dialogue – the main forum for bipartite social dialogue at the European level. Its meetings are organized three or four times a year.
In 1991, UNICE, ETUC and CEEP adopted a joint agreement calling for the obligation to consult social partners on legislation relating to social matters and for the possibility of social partners to negotiate framework agreements at Community level. This call was included in the Social Policy Agreement annexed to the Maastricht Protocol, which was signed by all Member States. At national level, social partners have thus been given the option of implementing directives through collective agreements.
The Agreement on Social Policy was incorporated into the Amsterdam Treaty (1997), ultimately establishing a single framework for social dialogue in the EU. The cross-sectoral outcomes of this process include the framework agreements on parental leave (1995), part-time work (1997) and fixed-term work (1999), implemented by Council directives.
The Treaty of Lisbon (2009) has further emphasized the role of the social partners (Article 152 TFEU), emphasizing the need to facilitate dialogue while respecting the independence and diversity of social partners.
In June 2016, the social partners, the Commission and the Presidency of the Council of the European Union signed a quadrilateral agreement which reaffirmed the essential role of European social dialogue in EU policy-making, including in the framework of the European Semester. At the Gothenburg Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in November 2017, Parliament, the Commission and the Council announced the creation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. It includes, inter alia, respect for the independence and the right to collective action of social partners, and recognizes their right to participate in the formulation and implementation of employment and social policy, including by concluding collective agreements.