Gaby Umbach, The Social Partners: The EES-related Supranational Social Dialogue – Real Integration or Just Friendly Lip Service? in:

Gaby Umbach

Intent and Reality of the European Employment Strategy, page 256 - 263

Europeanisation of National Employment Policies and Policy-Making?

1. Edition 2009, ISBN print: 978-3-8329-4128-4, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-1247-0

Series: Studies on the European Union, vol. 1

Bibliographic information
Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 256 Apart from being consulted during the process of drafting EGs, the ECOSOC and the CoR play an even weaker role as also-rans of the process not being able to profoundly impact on the EES. 4.1.4 The Social Partners: The EES-related Supranational Social Dialogue – Real Integration or Just Friendly Lip Service? From 1970 to 2002, the SCE was the main permanent political forum for supranational social partner consultation on policy definition and formation (interview EU- 4; cf. chapter In this way, the SCE was the main body for tripartite social dialogue–chaired by the EU presidency–in which the Council, the Commission and employers’ as well as employees’ organisations regularly consulted each other. It held an advisory status and promoted the co-ordination of employment and labour market policies between the three parties. Since 1997/98, it also provided for the central tripartite forum for social partner integration into the EES as requested in Art. 130 TEC and Art. 5 of the 2000 Council decision on the establishment of the EMCO (cf. Council of the EU 2000c). Envisaged to meet at least twice a year, the full SCE met around seven times per annum. Until 2002, the main topics of discussion were related to the social and economic objectives of the EU set out in the EGs and the BEPG. This task was further strengthened under the EGs in 2001. According to their own perception, social partners’ participation within the SCE was, yet, rather symbolic (interview EU-4). SCE meetings formed part of the regular EPSCO Council meetings, which were interrupted for about one hour to have social partners attend. During this hour, social partners joined the Council and presented their opinions on the respective points on the agenda without any formal discussion afterwards (ibid.). Furthermore, social partners became involved in EMCO meetings, during which–on a more technical level–they had the opportunity to present their opinions and priorities on the draft JER and other documents (interview EU-3). Even if supranational social partners generally welcomed “the fact that [the evolution of the past] … ha[d] led to development of consultation of the European social partners by the European institutions” (ETUC/UNICE/CEEP 2001:1), the need for reform of the SCE, in part paying rather lip service to social dialogue, was assessed to be pressing. Due to increasing ineffectiveness and lack of substantive integration into the consultation process (cf. European Commission 2006e), criticised also by the social partners (interview EU-4), meetings were finally suspended in early 2002 after an incremental self-imposed reform process did not lead to the better integration of tripartite concertation into the political process and synergy of social partner integration into the various processes could not be enhanced (cf. ETUC/UNICE/CEEP 2001:2). In order to establish a more powerful access point to the institutionalised supranational decision-making process, social partners, already on the eve of the Laeken European Council, proactively proposed in late 2001 “that the SCE be replaced by a Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 257 tripartite concertation committee for growth and employment which would be the forum for concertation between the social partners and the public authorities on the overall European strategy defined in Lisbon” (ibid.:2). This new tripartite social dialogue structure, focusing especially on the broader socio-economic context and the sustainability paradigm of the Lisbon Strategy, was foreseen to contribute to the constant exchange between the Commission, the Council and the social partners on the implementation of supranational socio-economic policies and the examination of the EU’s overall economic and social performance ahead of the annual Spring European Councils. After the general approval was given by the Laeken Summit (cf. European Council 2001b), the Commission presented a proposal for a Council decision establishing a tripartite social summit for growth and employment in 2002 (cf. European Commission 2002h). This proposal especially strengthened ETUC’s and UNICE’s position as main technical co-ordinators of social partners’ delegations to the Tripartite Social Summit. After final consent by the Barcelona European Council (cf. European Council 2002:47) and the 2003 Council decision (cf. Council of the EU 2003d), the Tripartite Social Summit, since 2003, meets at least once a year before the Spring European Council. With this practice, it “institutionalises the informal summits held since December 2000” (European Commission 2006d). The Tripartite Social Summit is composed of the current EU presidency and the two following ones (including their labour and social affairs ministers), the Commission (including the Commissioner responsible for employment), and the social partners. The latter are represented by 10 officials each side as within the former SCE. All are represented at the highest level. Meetings are chaired by both the president of the Council and of the Commission. Depending on the agenda, other ministers and commissioners may join meetings (cf. Council of the EU 2003d:art.3). The secretariat of the Summit is located under the Commission. The main tasks of the Tripartite Social Summit are to provide a formal arena for exchange and integration of social partners’ priorities into the different (coordination) processes (EES, Cologne process, Lisbon Strategy; cf. ibid.:§1-3) and to ensure the effective participation of social partners within the implementation of supranational socio-economic policies (cf. European Commission 2006d). As today’s main supranational institution for social partner consultation, it also provides for the formal point of access of social partners to the EES. The Tripartite Social Summit was, yet, also more critically perceived as the Commission’s effort to bypass problems of insufficient national social partner integration within the NAP processes, establishing an own supranational body for social partner concertation (interview D-2). Additional contacts between the different social partner organisations and the Commission take place throughout the year, making the Commission the most important access point for lobbying at EU level (interview EU-3, EU-5). Contacts between ETUC and DG EMPL are assessed to be rather close, while those of the trade unions to DG ECFIN are perceived to be more conflictual due to the underlying neo-liberal policy focus of the latter (interview EU-5). Another main place for the general exchange between the Commission and the social partners is the Social Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 258 Dialogue Committee (SDC), comprising employees’ and employers’ organisation as well as the Commission that holds an observer status (interview EU-4, EU-6). The SDC meets four to five times a year and has established several sub-groups, such as on labour market and on vocational training. Despite this form of institutionalisation of contacts within various committees, most lobbying of the social partners is directly policy-related. The main EU-level social partner organisations involved in the supranational social dialogue–also regarding the EES–are ETUC, UNICE, the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP). Other social partner organisations involved are the Union Européenne de l’Artisanat et de Petites et Moyennes Entreprises (UEAPME), the Comité des Organisations Professionelles Agricoles de l’Union Européenne (COPA), EURO- COMMERCE, EUROCADRES and the Conference of European Churches (CEC). Given the monopoly of technical representation of the first two within the Tripartite Social Summit and the close affiliation of the third to the second, ETUC, UNICE and CEEP hold a rather outstanding position within the supranational part of the EES-PCN. UNICE and CEEP closely co-ordinate their work and frequently prepare joint proposals and opinions within the Luxembourg process. The latter focusing more on the regional and local dimension of the EES (interview EU-6). With a view to personnel capacities, CEEP disposes over fewer resources and, thus, profits from the close alignment to UNICE. As to the overall co-ordination mechanism and content of the EES, supranational social partners’ confederations are perceived to find it problematic to align with the new idea of social partnership embedded in the strategy. Given that the EES broadens both the range and the contents of regular social dialogue topics at supranational level, the gap between the new approach and traditional understandings is assessed to generate adaptation problems (interview EU-2). Especially the contents of the former adaptability pillar and the responsibilities of social partners under this pillar point at this particular extension of duties and tasks. One Commission official compared these difficulties with the problems of the German Alliance for Jobs transferred to the supranational level, yet, at the same time increased by the missing reputation of European social partner organisations at the domestic level, leading towards missing support of their more proactive involvement in the EES (interview EU-2; cf. chapter Regarding their approach towards the EES, social partners’ priorities and ideological backgrounds clearly shine through. They partially are also assessed not to be willing to change their own policy approaches and paradigms substantially enough to support the strategy (interview EU-2). UNICE generally welcomes the EES and the OMC applied, as the method respects national diversity by setting common targets without pre-establishing the way towards compliance (interview EU-4). Yet, integration into the treaties was not UNICE’s most favoured solution and the overall coherence between the BEPG and the EES was the more important aim, favouring the macro-economic framework over employment policy co-ordination (interview EU-4). The employers’ organisations confederation, furthermore, favoured the Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 259 creation of a more qualitative approach to social and employment policies. It also supported the non-prescriptive character of the method that was not targeting at regulatory measures or at ‘social engineering’ (ibid.). UNICE concentrates its supranational resources on the monitoring and implementation of the entrepreneurship pillar, which, according to its own evaluation, has not progressed sufficiently especially during the first phase of the EES (ibid.). The implementation of this pillar is, hence, assessed to be the Achilles’ heel of the EES in need to be reinforced in the future. According to UNICE’s assessment, member states concentrated far too much on active labour market policies, neglecting the strategy’s entrepreneurship element (cf. ibid.). UNICE lays additional focus on job creation, reduction of task burden on labour, flexible work organisation, mobility, lifelong learning and on tax as well as benefit systems (ibid.). CEEP shares UNICE’s overall assessment (interview EU-6) and has established particular priorities within the areas of local employment initiatives, equal opportunities and adaptability. With a view to the 2003 reform of the EES, employers’ organisations very much favoured the streamlining of the EES and the BEPG as well as the simplification of the EGs. It was assessed to lead towards more coherence between employment policy co-ordination and macro-economic development (interview EU-4) and to smooth existing inner-institutional conflicts, such as between the Commission’s DG EMPL and DG ECFIN or between the EMCO, the EPC, and the EFC. On the background of rising unemployment and decreasing economic growth throughout the 1990s, ETUC ‘critically supported’ the constitutionalisation of the Employment Title within the Amsterdam Treaty (interview EU-5). It was perceived to respond to the strong need “to place Employment, and more specifically the pursuit of full employment, at the centre of the EU’s objectives and policies” (ETUC 2002:2) and to increase the range of options to react at supranational level. Once the EES was set up, ETUC repeatedly required the strategy to become more precise, asking for more quantitative targets and a stringent evaluation of member states’ compliance (interview EU-5). Regarding the initial four-pillar-structure of the EES, ETUC focused closely on the adaptability and the employability pillar. It mainly targeted at the creation of ‘employment-friendly policies’ and critically assessed the strong macro-economic and less social direction of the EGs (ibid.). According to one supranational official, this distribution of priorities between UNICE/CEEP and ETUS followed the national trends throughout the EU with activities to increase employment and enhance the quality of work lying within the priorities of the trade unions rather than near to the heart of employers’ interests (ibid.). Regarding the potential to be involved at European level, one EU-level representative assessed the close affiliation of member states’ trade unions to ETUC as a strong basis to successfully influence EU-level activities and the EES, generally favouring trade unions integration at EU-level (ibid.). Supranational employers’ confederations, by contrast, were suffering from less tight links between national and supranational organisations. They were, thus, also loosing potential to successfully develop uniform views within the Luxembourg process (ibid.). Moreover, big Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 260 national trade unions, such as those of the public sector and the metal industry, and big firms were, hence, more successfully integrated also at European level, while interest representations of SME, the low wage sector or low-skilled workers were potential losers of policy-making and co-ordination within the EMLG system and, thus, also within the EES (interview UK-2). While, in their own assessment, supranational trade union representation was rather strong in formulating common positions, one could also suspect that the heterogeneity of national member unions both in terms of political influence and resources created co-ordination bottlenecks for ETUC’s work as far as supranational interest and priority formation were concerned (interview EU-5). While weaker affiliates perceived the EES as beneficial for enhancing their domestic and supranational influence, strong national trade unions, such as the German ones, assessed the EES to limit their traditionally strong powers within the domestic arena. These differences can represent obstacles to the development of common supranational priorities and approaches. They potentially hamper the establishment of a powerful supranational social dialogue structures. Hence, national political traditions and cultures become relevant particularly at this part of the EES-PCN and potentially limit joint opinions to the formulation of commonplaces. Within UNICE’s social affairs department only one policy adviser and a related employment working group, comprising experts on employment and labour market policies of the member federations (with usually about 15 member attending meetings), are responsible for the EES. They draft UNICE’s positions and evaluate member states’ performances under the EES, before UNICE’s social affairs committee–comprising the heads of departments for social affairs of the members federation–takes the final decision on the opinion within the inner-organisational bottomup decision-making process (interview EU-4). Following regular inner-organisational working methods, CEEP established a similar structure like UNICE. CEEP’s social affairs committee (including an employment group), comprising six to seven members, and CEEP’s secretariat, led by four to five permanent officers and several temporarily delegated collaborators of the national affiliates (excl. administrative staff), deal with CEEP’s involvement into the EES. Yet, caused by the non-bindingness of the EES, not all national sections attend the employment group’s meetings. Usually Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, and Sweden delegated national representatives and co-operated within the inner-organisational drafting of opinions on the strategy (interview EU-6). If CEEP disposed over more extensive resources (as through an official peer review programme for social partners), representatives were enabled to engage more at European level. Yet, with shrinking membership caused by privatisation of national businesses all across Europe, supranational engagement inevitably remains limited (ibid.). Within ETUC, two confederal secretaries deal with the EES. ETUC is supported by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), in which two to three researchers contribute to the management of the (multi-)annual process. Like UNICE’s social affairs committee, the ETUC’s employment committee meets three to four times a Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 261 year (interview EU-5). The committee also deals with the EES and provides for the main channel of inner-organisational deliberation on the strategy. Within this committee, all affiliates–in addition to having established their own EU liaison offices in Brussels–are represented at supranational level and discuss national positions (ibid., EU-4). According to supranational social partner officials, the overall relationship between the two sides of the economy under the EES is neither class-biased nor conflictual (interview EU-4, EU-5). This, not the least, owes much to the partial vagueness of the EES, the missing ownership, and low degree of public awareness of the strategy (cf. Ardy/Umbach 2004:9ff.). With a view to their overall involvement, social partners have been asked by the Commission to actively participate in order to provide additional insight into member states’ employment performance. So, their national member organisations were invited to evaluate the EES and their involvement into national implementation processes (interview EU-4, EU-5). The social partners welcomed this invitation, but in parallel remarked that the development of the EES until 2001 “led to varied and uneven venues and times of concertation” (ETUC/UNICE/CEEP 2001:2). Generally, social partners have contributed to the EES not only by their involvement in employment policy formulation via tripartite social dialogue consultations. They were also involved at the implementation stage within the bilateral social dialogue between employees’ and employers’ organisations both at supranational and national levels (interview EU-4). Within the Luxembourg process, the Commission consults with supranational social partners informally before the submission of the draft JER and EGs to the Council (interview EU-5), asking for their comments on the drafts prepared by DG EMPL. Feed-back is, moreover, asked to be given on topics such as the evaluation of the EES’s implementation at domestic level, especially focusing on the content and procedure of social partner integration, for which the social partners prepared a companion of good practices (interview EU-4, EU-5, EU-6). Yet, in view of consultations on new EGs, some social partners perceived not to be involved early enough in the process to properly react on the drafts (interview EU-6). Supranational social partners are, moreover, officially consulted by the Commission on the draft recommendations. They are asked to present their comments, prepared on the basis of the input of their national affiliates, within the Labour Market Working Group of the SDC (interview EU-5, EU-6) and after the submission of the draft recommendations to the Council by EMCO. In October 2002, moreover, their formal integration into the process of drafting of the EGs was decided by the EMCO (interview D-2, EU-5). While ETUC and UNICE attend EMCO meetings on a regular basis, CEEP did not do so in the past (interview EU-6). Given this consultation practice, social partners– during the first phase of the EES–have been involved into the supranational part of the EES-PCN mainly via EMCO and the Commission (cf. chapter 4.1.1 and 4.1.2). Already in 1998, directly after the inception of the EES, ETUC, UNICE and CEEP created special consultation mechanisms to involve their national member organisations to contribute to the annual evaluation of the NAPs (interview EU-4, EU-5, EU-6). The (multi-)annual surveys are prepared on the basis of national Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 262 answers to questionnaires focusing on the evaluation of social partners’ involvement at national level, most recent policy developments, and the overall implementation of the NAPs. The annual report, in the case of ETUC called the ‘ETUC employment fiche’, is based on the so-called ‘employment circular’ (cf. ETUC 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002b). It concentrates on the evaluation of social partners’ involvement in national EES-related activities, the links between employment and overall macroeconomic policy, the progress towards the three overarching targets of the EES (cf. chapter, the development of comparable data and additional quantitative targets as well as the development of negotiations with other social partners on particular aspects of the EES (cf. ETUC 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002b). Regarding personnel as well as other resources absorbed by this annual evaluation exercise, social partners perceived the EES to present a huge burden within the organisations’ annual timetables (interview EU-4, EU-5, EU-6). The annual evaluation reports are submitted to the Commission as a kind of ‘compendium of good practices’ related to the implementation of EGs (interview EU-4). A key result of these reports, at least on the side of the trade unions, was a profound dissatisfaction with the integration intensity at national level, even if general satisfaction has improved over the years. Related to the 2003 reforms, ETUC preferred to lay more emphasis on the quality of work and supported the synchronisation of the BEPG and the EES, as also did UNICE and CEEP (interview EU-4, EU-5, EU-6). Its support, yet, more strongly aimed at increasing coherence between the EGs and the macro-economic guidelines in direction of strengthening the social dimension (interview EU-5). Yet, unlike UNICE, ETUC clearly promoted autonomy and a sovereign identity of the EES separate from the BEPG with a clear focus on employment creation rather than for a further sub-ordination under the BEPG policy paradigm. Furthermore, “the stress should be on giving active support and on providing incentives, rather than on removing disincentives, to help people find and stay in work” (ETUC 2002a:3), reemphasising the “‘priority focus on lifelong learning, quality on work, and gender quality’” (ibid.). This choice for the EES to remain a unique approach rooted in ETUC’s perception of the BEPG as increasingly intervening in the EES’s terrain by expanding coverage of employment related policies in contradiction to EES recommendations (interview EU-5). This duplication was assessed to not only blur the EES’s priorities. Due to the treaty-based superiority of the BEPG, it was, moreover, perceived to increasingly subordinate the EES’s ‘policy ID’ and targets to those of the BEPG. Special criticism was raised on the different socio- and macro-economic policy approaches and related co-ordination gaps between the different Commission DGs that were perceived to negatively impact on the European employment coordination cycle at the expense of social interests. ETUC, hence, wished the 2003 streamlining to eradicate especially these inner- and inter-institutional co-ordination failures, preventing DG ECFIN as well as ECOFIN from setting up their own concurring policy priorities within the employment guidelines of the BEPG (on the relation of EPSCO and ECOFIN, interview D-2). Furthermore, the simplification and reduction of the EGs was hoped to enhance social partners’ integration as well Structural-Procedural Aspects of the EES in Practice 263 as to unburden their annual monitoring and reporting timetables and strengthen their participation (interview EU-5). Concerning the participation of social partners within the first phase of the EES, the Commission identified room for substantial improvement and intensification of activities with a stronger involvement and integration at European level in order to increase the overall legitimacy of the process. Social partners were generally assessed to not have taken over ownership of the process, to not have been as involved as they could/should have been and, hence, to not have sufficiently lived up to their responsibilities under the Luxembourg process (interview EU-3). Some social partner organisations assessed this criticism to intervene into their intrinsic autonomy (interview EU-4), while others felt not involved early enough in the process (interview EU-6). Problems in this context especially arose through the missing powers of supranational social partners’ confederations to bind their national affiliates as well as diverging national social dialogue negotiations cycles (interview EU-4, EU-5), hampering the overall success of the process at EU level. Especially in view of the integration of supranational social partners into the process of drafting the EGs since 2002, these problems revealed gaps between the supranational and national level involvement given that national affiliates were partially not willing to accept the work of their supranational confederations (interview D-2). The 2003/05 reforms, at least theoretically, tackled this particular problem and provided for broader room for integration. According to supranational social partner representatives, the assessed lack of participation is predominantly caused by scarce resources at hand at the European level and by the profound differences of influence and resources of national member organisations (interview EU-4, EU-5, EU-6). These differences provide for the basis of uneven national engagement at the European level, making it even more difficult to formulate joint positions for the supranational EES cycle. Evidence for this weakness is at hand for instance when comparing German trade unions’ strength, rooting in the long-established right to free collective bargaining (Tarifautonomie), and the situation of their British counterparts. 4.1.5 Interim Assessment: The Supranational Part of the EES-PCN – A New Integrated PCN Interlinking Socio-Economic Policy Co-ordination Processes? The supranational part of the EES-PCN is typical for the structural-procedural characteristics of EMLG policy-making in some of its elements. At the same time, it is atypical in others. While clearly concentrating on the EES, the focus of the EES- PCN is not laid on employment policies alone. It takes into consideration a broader range of aspects deriving from the interweavement of employment policy coordination with other supranational policy co-ordination cycles, establishing close relations to macro-economic policies as well as to education and learning. Overlaps with other policy areas are, thus, stronger than in conventional EMLG policy networks, creating structural-procedural hurdles for strong sectoralisation.

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Mit ihren spezifischen Merkmalen als neues Politikinstrument – wie etwa ihrem rechtlich nicht bindenden Charakter, dem Ziel des gegenseitigen Politiklernens durch Austausch bester Praktiken oder gemeinsamen Evaluierungsprozessen – stellt die Europäische Beschäftigungsstrategie (EBS) und die mit ihr Anwendung findende Offene Methode der Koordinierung (OMK) beschäftigungspolitische Akteure in der EU vor die neuen Herausforderungen von Politik-Koordinierung, die die Politikgestaltung im europäischen Mehrebenensystem neu prägen.

Das vorliegende Buch beschäftigt sich intensiv mit diesen unterschiedlichen Facetten der EBS und ihrer Wirkung. Es geht dabei über bisherige Einzelstudien zur EBS hinaus und befasst sich nicht nur mit deren Entstehung, Entwicklung und Merkmalen. Es kontrastiert vielmehr den eigenen Anspruch der EBS mit ihrer politischen Realität und untersucht theoretisch hoch reflektiert deren Einfluss auf Politik-Koordinierungsstrukturen, Beschäftigungspolitiken und zugrunde liegenden Ideen sowie deren Zusammenspiel mit anderen wirtschaftspolitischen Bereichen. Neben der EU-Ebene dienen Großbritannien und Deutschland als Fallbeispiele für mitgliedstaatliche Anpassungsprozesse. Das Buch verankert seine Wirkungsanalyse sehr fundiert in der wissenschaftstheoretischen Debatte um Europäisierung und Politikkonvergenz, um deren Anwendbarkeit im Falle der EBS kritisch zu analysieren. Es komplettiert damit Europäisierungsstudien zu regulativer Politik durch die Analyse des Einflusses weicher Politik-Koordinierung im europäischen Mehrebenensystem.