Select Committee on European Scrutiny Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC)


  1.  The TUC represents 73 affiliated unions with a total of nearly 6.8 million members. It is a leading member of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which has in affiliation 65 national trade union centres in 28 countries, including all EU and candidate countries, with a total membership of about 58 million.

  2.  The TUC and ETUC have pressed consistently for improved openness and democratic accountability in the European institutional system. We do not subscribe, however, to the notion of "Europe bad, national good". In the TUC's experience, access to and involvement in public policy making is more systematically available at the European level than in Britain. For example, the processes of involvement are clear and transparent rather than informal and lobbying-based.

  3.  The TUC and ETUC have supported the process of European integration enshrined in successive Treaty amendments, and have expressed strong regret that the social and employment, as well as political, dimensions have not kept pace with economic, monetary and market integration. We believe that progress in these key areas should go hand in hand.

  4.  The TUC and ETUC welcomed as a step forward the outcome of the European Council and Intergovernmental Conference in Nice, which adopted Treaty reforms to prepare the EU for enlargement and decided to launch an in-depth debate on the "Future of Europe". The structured procedure for further Treaty reform in 2004 is to be decided at the Laeken European Council in December 2001.


  5.  The immediate agenda set out in Nice includes four issues: the role of the national parliaments; the status of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its integration into the treaties; the competencies of the EU; and a simplification of the Treaties. Other issues which current debate indicates may be added to that agenda include the EU's external role as a global player; the inter-institutional balance; the role of the regions, and the role of "civil society", including the social partners. We would support a comprehensive agenda.

  6.  The decision-making procedures leading up to, and including, the Nice meetings were thought by many to have been confusing and unsatisfactory and to be unsuitable in the context of an enlarged Union. It has been argued that there is a need to review the way IGCs are conducted, as well as the IGC method itself, and to undertake a fundamental overhaul of the treaties. We believe that there is a clear need for enhanced participation in the decision making process, and for a simplification of the treaties. Issues relating to the overall architecture of the treaties and of a possible European Constitution which would define the aims, the jurisdiction and the responsibilities of the Union in relation to those of the member states is still under discussion in the ETUC. We would be generally supportive of moves in that direction, while questioning whether establishing the "finality" of Europe is currently an achievable, or even desirable, objective.


  7.  The recent Commission White Paper on European Governance identifies a loss of confidence among many people in "a poorly understood and complex system to deliver the policies that they want". It makes proposals for urgent action to adapt governance under the existing treaties, as well as for broader debate on the Future of Europe in view of the next IGC planned for 2004.

  8.  In its initial reaction to the White Paper, the ETUC welcomed any move to make the European Union more efficient, more open, more democratic and which brought it closer to its citizens. It noted with satisfaction that the Commission continued to emphasize the importance of the "Community method" in comparison to the risks that purely intergovernmental practices represent for the cohesion and the coherence of the Union. It agreed with the necessity of better involving civil society, and especially representative organisations, in decision-making, and underlined the special role and responsibilities of trade unions and employers' organisations. It also welcomed the ambition to make the Union play a greater role in the definition of a new form of governance at global level, and said that confronted with the concerns that the process of the globalisation of the economy provoked, Europe could effectively offer a vision and different solutions on the basis of its social model.


  9.  The TUC Congress in September 2001 recognised that the debate on the Future of Europe would provide the setting in which a range of European issues, including possible UK entry into the euro, would be considered. It is important, therefore, that this debate demonstrates the relevance of European matters to citizens. Congress called for the Future of Europe agenda to aim at building an open and people-centred Union, including incorporation into the treaties of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; maximising possibilities for free movement of people to match freedoms of movement for capital, goods and services; and action to reinforce democratic control and openness of EU decision-making, notably through the European Parliament and public access to meetings of the Council of Ministers.

  10.  The TUC Congress also called for a comprehensive follow-up to the Social Policy Agenda agreed in Nice, which in particular characterises the common core values of the European social model by systems that offer a high level of social protection, by the importance of social dialogue, and by services of general interest covering activities vital for social cohesion. The TUC has called repeatedly on the Government to act to enhance social dialogue and social partnership at all levels in the UK, in line with European approaches.


  11.  The existence and role of the social partners is already recognised in Title XI of the Treaty, with requirements for their consultation by the Commission and their ability to negotiate legally binding framework agreements, adopted by the Council as decisions or directives. The social partners are also able to adopt non-binding voluntary agreements, opinions and recommendations under the Social Chapter. It is therefore a priority for the TUC and the ETUC to ensure that future treaty reforms recognise the role and autonomy of the social partners at all levels, in order to aid the development of a European industrial relations system.


  12.  The TUC and ETUC have not considered in detail many of the issues which are the subject of the inquiry. We would offer the following comments on some of the specific questions:


  13.  People's apparent loss of confidence in traditional politics and institutions that represent them is not confined to the EU. It exists at national and other levels and attempts to reduce democratic deficit in the EU will need to involve other levels also.

  14.  For the TUC the key question is how to make the EU a popular project. We would stress the need for a broadly based debate that extends beyond institutional and constitutional considerations. It should also cover other issues of concern to EU citizens such as employment in both qualitative and quantitative terms, the economy and the environment.


  15.  The sui generis and hybrid institutional nature of the EU, neither a government nor just an international organisation and its multilayered decision-making process make it difficult for the layperson to identify and anticipate who does what on behalf of whom. A number of European surveys emphasize how little information people have about how the EU works. Only the Commission and Parliament are recognised as European institutions'—even if people barely know what they do. Sometimes the Court of Justice is also recognised, though this is partially confused with other European or international courts. The Council of Ministers and the European Council are not generally known as European bodies, and when they are, they are perceived more as talking shops or forums for negotiating different national interests rather than as institutions participating in an organised fashion in the decision-making process. The Economic and Social Committee (in which the TUC is represented) and the Committee of the Regions, which have some claims to representing the views of organised civil society and territorial bodies do have some input into the inter-institutional decision-making but are unfortunately virtually unknown outside Brussels.

  16.  The tendency of national governments to hide behind Brussels when some decisions, they helped to shape and take, are not popular exacerbates further feelings that ordinary people have less and less say in the decisions that affect their daily lives.

  17.  Constitutional developments allowing wider possibilities for a Europe a" la carte with the procedure on strengthened co-operation; the introduction of new forms of soft law such as open co-ordination and codes of conduct in the employment and social policy areas; and possible moves towards selective re-nationalisation of EU policies may lead to a more opaque EU. The role of the European Parliament in these new procedures remains ill-defined, or is diminished.

  18.  We generally support the maintenance of the "Community method". While being happy to participate in "open policy co-ordination" involving benchmarks, targets and peer review groups, the TUC does not accept the Government's interpretation that this obviates the need for EU legal instruments to be advanced in the social field, whether adopted by the European institutions or negotiated by the social partners.


  19.  According to a European qualitative survey[2], commissioned by the European Commission and completed in June this year, on the public's attitudes to and expectations of the European union in the 15 member states and in nine candidate countries, it appears that the interviewees are pessimistic as to the "future" in general.

  20.  According to this survey, in addition to a general sense of loss of values the interviewees give two key reasons for such pessimism:

    —  economic liberalism has gone too far or gone wrong: EU perceived as open territory for multinationals on which no real political control is being exerted and strong concern about the deterioration of public services;

    —  speed of current change (both technological and economic), and great uncertainty as to its consequences: virtual economy, pace of company restructuring, new diseases (especially related to agrostuffs).

  21.  Calls for more social Europe rather than less are reflected in the findings of the June Eurobarometer for the UK where three policy areas have been identified as requiring a European dimension and a public debate. These are citizens' rights (51.1 per cent), food safety/health/environment (48 per cent) and the fight against unemployment (42.7 per cent). At EU level the same three themes have emerged albeit with higher percentages, 52, 49, and 53 per cent respectively.

  22.  These concerns mirror those of the ETUC and the TUC. Part of the solution is to ensure first that the social acquis including public services at national level is not under threat (for example there is concern among trade unions in Europe at proposals to make public transport services subject to public procurement rules) and second that EU social legislation is not simply a counterweight to competition but indeed will lead to new rules when essential social needs are not being met or under growing pressure.

  23.  The TUC and ETUC have called for the Charter of fundamental rights to be made binding, and improved to include the right to a minimum income (as exist in most member states), cross border trade union rights including collective action, equal rights for all (legal) residents in the EU. A charter on public services proposed jointly by the ETUC and CEEP (the organization representing public sector employers in Europe) should be integrated in the Treaties.

  24.  Enlargement and reinforced legislative competences in the social field require the gradual extension of QMV to all social issues (with the exception of social protection) together with EP co-decision powers; and the deletion of article 137.6, which excludes pay among other matters, from competence under the Social Provisions of the treaty. The non-regression clause should be reinforced in the treaties. In relation to the speed of change, the answer lies with greater job security, training, and better participation of workers in companies including information and consultation.

  25.  The EU, with its social dimension, is part of the solution, rather than the problem, perceived by many in globalisation. Greater expectations of the EU are shown through recent examples of ETUC-led actions in relation to EU summits (Feira, Nice, and a forthcoming one in Brussels) and in opposition to job losses in multinational companies such as the ones that took place in the UK in relation to Marks and Spencer and General Motors.


  26.  The TUC and ETUC have consistently called for greater accountability by the Council, and for their meetings to be open to the public. In March 2001, the ETUC Executive Committee expressed support for positions of the Swedish Government in relation to enhanced public disclosure and transparency.

  27.  In addition we would call for timely information on proceedings including access to Coreper (in which many decisions are actually taken) and Council preparatory documents; proper consultation of social partners on issues which concern them including external trade; anticipation, identification and explanation of votes in Council. Due to the nature of the EU decision-making process made of shifting coalitions between member states we have experienced difficulties in trying to predict where governments are likely to stand on some key legislative proposals relating to social and worker rights and more recently public services and public procurement. Enlargement will maintain and possibly exacerbate this situation.

  28.  A strengthened role of the EP is a key part of trade union policy towards enhancing openness and democratic control in Europe. While the EP and the Commission hold hearings with civil society representatives, including trade unions, on a variety of issues, the Council remains opaque.


  29.  We would not support the introduction of referendums generally in the EU in current circumstances. The EU Institutions should of course take account of the wishes of national electorates as expressed through their own national constitutional procedures and traditions, which in some countries, but not in the UK, include the generalised use of referendums. It is incumbent on the Council to act to legitimise its actions as a collegiate body in public perception. We would emphasise again the need to strengthen the role of the European Parliament as the real source of EU legitimacy.


  30.  We support moves towards increasing co-decision between the Parliament and the Council, and it would therefore be logical for those institutions to have equal influence in deciding the composition of the Commission. We have not considered the question of the election of the Commission or its President. We would oppose a reduction in the Commission's current powers.


  31.  We would not support the setting up of a second chamber composed on members of national parliaments. This would divert from the EP, create more confusion than exists currently for citizens seeking access to the parliamentary process, and would have little added-value for democratic supervision. In our view enhancing the position of national parliamentary scrutiny committees is a more direct—and cheaper—way of holding the Council to account.

  32.  We would nevertheless support the creation of a network of joint EP/national parliamentary select committees. In particular, we believe that the joint structure aimed at scrutinising the European Central Bank should be strengthened. While not bringing into question the independence of the ECB (and being mindful that we in the UK have currently little locus in the matter) we believe that the ECB should be more open and transparent and strongly urge that an enhanced supervisory role be established over it primarily through the EP and given maximum publicity.


  33.  In addition to comments made above, we would stress again our opposition to the application of subsidiarity to minimise the Union's social competences and activities, as suggested by Government spokespeople.

  34.  In relation to enlargement, a primary trade union concern is that the social acquis should be applied in entrant countries.


  35.  The EU already has a Committee of the Regions, so another structure does not seem necessary. We understand, however, that tensions have arisen within the COR due to the different roles which territorial structures fulfil in individual member states. The COR, like the Economic and Social Committee, does not have full Institutional status.


  36.  We would support the establishment of a Convention, such as the one that shaped the EU charter of fundamental rights, composed of national and European MPs, representatives from national governments and the European Commission, with consultation of civil society.

  37.  As noted above, the social partners, including trade unions, are explicitly recognised in the Social Chapter as actors in the legislative process. Indeed those aspects of the treaty were initially proposed by the social partners and accepted in Maastricht. Their position should be reflected through commensurate involvement in the Convention, particularly when related issues are discussed, as well as, notably, the economic and social aspects of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which also impinge on them directly.

  38.  Based on the experience with the Charter, a Post Nice Convention needs to be improved to ensure greater transparency, representativity and accountability through:

    —  A better gender-balance and wider ethnic make up than for the Charter Convention. (Nine women out of 62 members for the Charter Convention).

    —  Transparency of votes.

    —  Regular reports of the discussions and position of national governments, EP and national parliaments to citizens.

    —  All meetings, including those when votes take place should be public.

  Some form of participation of representatives from candidate countries

  39.  We would wish to see the establishment at national level of a contact point to follow developments in the Convention, with a similar composition, thus including trade union representation.

8 October 2001

2   Survey made for the European Commission in the course of the first half of this year based on qualitative interviews of 694 people aged between 26 and 60 from different social backgrounds. Back

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