Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Eighth Report





COM(02) 341

Commission Communication: "The European social dialogue, a force for innovation and change".

Draft Council Decision establishing a Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment.

Legal base:

Communication: —

Draft Decision: Article 202EC; consultation; simple majority


Document originated:

26 June 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

5 July 2002


Trade and Industry

Basis of consideration:

EM of 29 August 2002

Previous Committee Report:

None; but see (19331) 10432/98: HC 155-xxxvii (1997-98), paragraph 15 (21 October 1998)

To be discussed in Council:

December 2002

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Not cleared; further information requested


    1. The "social dialogue" refers to the long-standing practice whereby the Commission consults the main EU "social partners" — the European-level representatives of employers and employees — on proposals for EU social legislation. Article 138 EC tasks the Commission with promoting the consultation of management and labour at Community level and requires it to take any relevant measure to facilitate this dialogue. The same Article also requires the Commission to consult management and labour before it brings forward any proposals in the social and employment policy fields. Article 139EC provides for the social partners to negotiate agreements which can be implemented either according to national procedures and practices, or by means of a Council decision.
    2. The last time the Commission addressed the social dialogue was in 1998, when it issued a Communication on adopting and promoting the social dialogue at Community level along with a Draft Decision to set up the Standing Committee on Employment.[21]
    3. The document

    4. The current document follows the 1998 model in comprising both a Communication and a draft Decision. We report on them separately.
    5. The Communication

    6. The Communication discusses the outputs of the social dialogue to date and considers its future, particularly in relation to economic and social reform and enlargement. It lists a range of actions for the Commission and makes a number of recommendations to the social partners. There are two recommendations to Member States. The first encourages Member States to use part of their funds earmarked for European Social Fund (ESF) technical assistance to support operations by the social partners concerned with implementation and monitoring of the employment guidelines. The second states that Member States should associate the social partners in the transposal at national level of Community texts that have formed the subject of a negotiated agreement (such as those on part-time and fixed-term work). Useful Annexes contain information on European social-partner organisations, sectoral social dialogue committees, and consultations with, and examples of calls on, the social partners.
    7. The draft Decision

    8. The draft Decision proposes the establishment of a Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment to replace the Standing Committee on Employment, in which the social partners presently meet once a year with Employment and Social Affairs Ministers. The Tripartite Social Summit would meet shortly before the Spring European Council. Its membership would comprise the Troika Heads of Government (described as those of the current and two subsequent Presidencies), the Commission and representatives of the social partners. The proposal formalises recent arrangements — there were comparable Social Summits before the Councils at Barcelona, Laeken and Stockholm. The task of the Tripartite Social Summit would be to co-ordinate the social partners' input into the various processes to which they contribute, and to provide for an informal discussion on their contribution to achieving the Lisbon agenda.[22]
    9. The Government's view

    10. The Minister of State for E-Commerce and Competitiveness (Mr Stephen Timms) comments on the Communication as follows:
    11. "[This] is a largely discursive document and has no direct policy implications. We welcome the Communication's encouragement for the social partners to develop their autonomous dialogue, and would like to see them concentrating on areas where they can add value, such as skills, work organisation, equal opportunities and measures to increase the participation of women and older people in the labour market. This should involve use of the open method of co-ordination and the new style voluntary agreements (such as on telework) that reflect and maintain the diversity of models of social dialogue in member states. With regard to the recommendations to member states, the UK's social partner organisations will be fully consulted in the forthcoming assessment of the ESF's contribution to the UK national employment action plan, and the UK routinely consults its social partners and others when implementing Directives."

    12. Turning to the draft Decision, he says:
    13. "The proposal to replace the Standing Committee on Employment (SCE) with a 'Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment' is intended to improve the consistency between the various processes in which the social partners are involved. The SCE is widely considered to be unsatisfactory, but it is not yet clear whether the Commission's proposal provides the solution. For example a number of Member States have queried whether it is right to sever the formal link between the social partners and the Employment and Social Policy Council, which was the primary purpose of the SCE. Officials are now seeking clarification and further detail. It will also be important to ensure that any changes are geared towards delivery of the Lisbon agenda."

    14. The Minister tells us that the Government will be seeking the views of the UK national member federations of the European social partners — the CBI, TUC and CEEP UK.[23] He also reports that the draft Decision will be considered by the Economic, Social, Health and Consumer Affairs Council, probably in December 2002. If it is agreed then, the first meeting of the Tripartite Social Summit should be before the Spring Council in 2003.
    15. Conclusion

    16. We agree with the implication in the Minister's comments that it would be counter-productive to replace the Standing Committee on Employment unless its successor body was clearly an improvement. It would help us to assess the potential usefulness of the proposed Tripartite Social Summit if we knew more about the current situation. We therefore ask the Minister why and by whom the Standing Committee on Employment is "widely considered to be unsatisfactory". We also ask what the perceived value of the recent Social Summits has been as compared with the formal link between the social partners and the Employment and Social Policy Council.
    17. We look forward to hearing from the Minister on these issues, on the "clarification and further detail" which his officials are seeking, and on the views of the UK national member federations of the European social partners. Meanwhile, we will keep the document under scrutiny.


21  (19331) 10432/98: see headnote to this paragraph. Back

22   This agenda set a goal of full employment and employment targets and integrated the European employment strategy into a wider framework of policy co-ordination. Back

23  Confederation of British Industry; Trades Union Congress; European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation, UK. Back

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