11. august 2011

Slowing down Social Europe?

- The role of coalitions in the struggles over work and employment regulation

Artikel af Mikkel Mailand

The social dimension of the EU is as old as the union itself. However, it was not until the mid-1980s that the EU gradually developed its social dimension to counterbalance economic integration. In recent years, what can be labelled 'the regulation-sceptical actors' have been strengthened and 'the pro-regulation actors' have been weakened. This is so, because the number of socialist and social-democratic governments in the European Council has reduced and the same political forces have weakened in the European Parliament. In addition, the Barosso-led Commissions have followed a more liberal leaning agenda than its predecessors and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has lost bargaining power due to its affiliates' loss of members and challenges from internationalisation of production and labour migration. In 2004 the Eastern Enlargement also indirectly strengthened the regulation sceptical actors, as the enlargement made and still makes it increasingly difficult to agree on new regulation, mainly because the new member states tend to have labour standards well below the standards of the old member states.

These changes are expected to have influenced the recent development of the European social dimension, also known as 'Social Europe'. A number of EU-studies have already touched upon the impact of some of the above mentioned changes on the development of Social Europe, but their results tend to be ambiguous. This is the main reason as to why this article will be explored in greater depth here. Previous studies of EU level decision-making processes in the work and employment related areas have shown that, in order to maximize their influence, the main actors tend to seek alliances and create coalitions with other actors.

Following from these knowledge gaps and previous studies, the paper aims to discuss whether the strengthening of the regulation-sceptical actors has affected the scope and content of the regulation. In doing so, the decision-making processes behind recent European regulation in the work and employment related areas will be analysed by focusing on 1) the scope and content of recent regulation; 2) the extent to which regulation-sceptical coalitions and pro-regulation coalitions have successfully influenced decision-making process. These questions will be addressed by analysing two areas of work an employment regulation which the actors give highest priority to: Employee involvement and employment policy. In the employee involvement area two recent important cases are selected - the revision of the EWC directive in 2007-08 and the attempts to set-up a statute on the European Private Company 2008-09. In the employment policy area three important recent cases are analysed (the Lisbon revision in 2004-05; the common flexicurity principles in 2006-07 and the Europe 2020 process in 2009-10).

It will be argued that in the employee involvement area the pro-regulation forces appear still strong enough - under the right conditions - to get new regulation adopted as well as to prevent the adoption of unwanted regulation, at least in the short term. In the employment policy area examples of successful attempts from the regulation sceptical actors to slow down Social Europe can be traces, although they are few. An important reason as to why the speed in developing Social Europe has not slowed more down is the actors search for legitimacy, especially the Commissions need for a stronger social profile. Regarding the role of coalitions, the analysis of employee involvement area shows, on the one hand, that solid coalitions cannot be seen in any of the decision-making processes analysed. On the other hand, the ETUC, Business Europe, the Parliament and a number of the larger member states take positions as expected. In the employment policy area, coalitions seem to have played a more important role in the first half of the past decade than in the second half.

Paper til the 18th International Conference of Europeanists, 20.-22. juni 2011, Barcelona.