Commission proposes to strengthen the European Social Dialogue 

27 January 2023

On Wednesday, the European Commission presented an initiative putting forward plans to strengthen the Social Dialogue in Europe.

European Social Dialogue refers to discussions, consultations, negotiations and joint actions involving organisations representing employers and employees. Those are commonly referred to as “social partners” in the context of the initiative. The exchange can occur either in the form of a three-way dialogue involving the public authorities, or a two-party dialogue between the employer associations and trade union organisations. It is organised in the framework of sectoral social dialogue committees and at the cross-industry level. 

Within the context of a changing labour market, which is increasingly defined by digital transitions and aiming for climate neutrality, the proposal strives to ensure social fairness and democracy at work, and boost the Union’s prosperity and resilience through exchanging with social partners. An example of the importance of the engagement of social partners is the COVID-19 pandemic, during which they rapidly helped to organise a variety of health and safety measures at work. The Commission stresses that strengthening social dialogue through a European initiative is necessary as there is a notable variance in the degree and quality of the involvement of social partners across EU Member States.

The Commission’s non-legislative proposal for a Council recommendation entails a number of proposals to Member States. Firstly, the social partners should be consulted on the development and implementation of economic, employment and social policies according to national practices. Secondly, social partners are to communicate about the advantages of social dialogue and innovative forms of work. Thirdly, Member States are encouraged to increase workers’ and employers’ organisations’ capacity, which may mean that they have improved access to relevant information support from national governments. It is to be stressed that Recommendations are non-binding acts, which do not impose a mandatory legal framework. Consequently, the responsibility for attaining set out targets on the national level lies with the member states.

Concerning changes on the EU level, the Commission firstly, aims to reinforce European sectoral social dialogue by modernising its framework in close collaboration with EU social partners. Secondly, the proposal includes continuous support of social partner agreements, particularly through administrative support and legal advice. A third aim is strengthening social partners’ involvement in EU policymaking, for instance by gathering their views on EU policy priorities ahead of the Commission Work Programme. Lastly, the EU’s technical and financial support for social partners should become more efficient. 

Furthermore, the Commission calls on social partners to negotiate and conclude more social partner agreements and improve the membership and representativeness of trade unions and employers’ associations.

In their next steps, Member States will discuss the Commission proposal with a view to its adoption by the Council. Once adopted, Member States are invited to submit to the Commission a set of measures, which have been discussed with social partners, to implement this Recommendation.

As a result of this initiative, social partners can expect an increasing involvement at the national and EU levels.