Select Committee on European Union Fourteenth Report


1.  The position of social policy in the development of the European Union (EU) has always been controversial. The debate originally centred on whether and to what extent the European Community (EC), which was conceived as a primarily economic organisation, should have competence over the sensitive area of social policy, or whether it should be left to the Member States. There is now a measure of consensus that there is a distinctive "European social model", which the Conclusions of the Barcelona European Council in March 2000 characterised as based on "good economic performance, a high level of social protection and education and social dialogue".[1] In evidence to us Mr Peter Hain, the Government Representative on the Convention on the Future of Europe, said that he thought it was a helpful model containing "genuine social values that are distinctly European".[2]

2.   With the European Community being gradually granted more powers in this field, and these powers subject to a broad interpretation by the Court of Justice, the debate has shifted to include the relationship between social and economic policy: should the former be subordinate to the latter, or should both have equal standing? The question that now arises is what place social policy should have in the new draft Constitutional Treaty being prepared by the Convention on the Future of Europe.

3.  Although these issues have become prominent in the Future of Europe debate, it is striking that the examination of social policy per se was initially omitted from the Convention Working Groups. Growing pressure to examine social policy in its own right led, however, to the creation, at the end of 2002, of a Working Group on "Social Europe", in an attempt, as one commentator put it, to "rescue social policy from its traditional 'Cinderella status' in the EU legal and political framework".[3] The Group's mandate was to examine the following issues:

·  the basic values in the social field to be included in Article 2 of the draft Constitutional Treaty, taking into account those already contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

·  the social objectives to be included in Article 3 of the draft Treaty

·  the need to define EC/EU competences in respect of social matters and the possible addition of new competences

·  the role of the "Open Method of Co-ordination" and its place in the Constitutional Treaty

·  the relationship between economic and social policy co-ordination

·  the possible extension of qualified majority voting to areas where unanimity is required at present

·  the role of the "social partners", as it could be incorporated in Title VI of the draft Constitutional Treaty dealing with the democratic life of Union.

4.  Although the creation of the "Social Europe" Working Group was a positive step towards addressing these issues, its conditions of working were not ideal. As the same commentator has pointed out, "starting its work after all the other Working Groups had completed theirs and squeezed within a crowded timetable … the Social Europe Working Group had an unfortunate position to contend with as … an afterthought within the constitution-building process".[4] This resulted in very tight deadlines and the holding of only limited hearings of outside experts. She noted, however, that, "while the Group declined direct advice from civil society, it would seem that many of its members did listen carefully to and make substantial use of submissions which came from civil society groups".[5]

5.  The lateness of the Group's establishment is regrettable. It meant that its deliberations could not be taken into account in the drafting of Articles 1-16 of the Constitutional Treaty, which include provisions on the values, objectives and competences of the Union. It remains to be seen whether in the subsequent debate its recommendations will have any impact on the formulation of these Articles.

6.  The Committee decided to undertake this inquiry before the specific draft Treaty Articles on social policy had been produced, as a contribution to the continuing debate in the Convention and in the United Kingdom on a difficult and controversial area of policy. This Report examines both the main issues considered by the Working Group and the general draft Treaty Articles relevant to them that have so far been published. As the Committee has already produced a report on Articles 1-16,[6] this Report examines the social policy provisions (especially those on values and objectives) only to the extent that they are not covered in our previous Report.

7.  The inquiry was undertaken by Sub-Committee F of the Select Committee on the European Union, the membership of which is shown at Appendix 1. The Committee took oral evidence from Mr Peter Hain, the Government's representative in the Convention on the Future of Europe, and received written submissions from a number of bodies, which are listed in Appendix 2 We are indebted to all of them for submitting evidence at very short notice to the call for evidence that we issued on 14 February, which is reproduced in Appendix 3. We are particularly grateful for the help we received from our Specialist Adviser, Professor Erika Szyszczak, Professor of European and Competition Law, University of Leicester.

1   Paragraph 22. Back

2   Q 3. Back

3   Jo Shaw, A Strong Europe is a Social Europe, paper delivered at the first Workshop of the UACES Study Group on the debate on the Future of Europe, Federal Trust, 7 March 2003, available at Back

4   Ibid. Back

5   Ibid. Back

6  The Future of Europe: Constitutional Treaty - Draft Equal Opportunities Commission Articles 1-16, 9th Report 2002-03, HL Paper 61. Back

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