Select Committee on European Union Fourteenth Report


27.  Representatives of employers and of workers and employed persons (generally known as the "social partners") have played a part in the development of aspects of social policy in the EU, ever since their role of consultation and participation in the creation of social policy was formally recognised in the Social Policy Protocol and Agreement annexed to the EC Treaty at Maastricht. To date, however, their formal legal role has been focused on only a relatively narrow aspect of social policy, namely employment law. Under the Open Method of Co-ordination the social partners have been granted an important role in the formulation and implementation of social policy at the national level. This provides a useful model for showing how a wider range of participants can be brought into the evolving decision-making processes of the EU.[37] There are arguments for further extending the role of the social partners. Unfortunately the Working Group's Report did not provide details of the problems and limitations currently faced by the social partners in attempting to develop social policy and social law under the EC Treaty and did not identify clearly how their current role might be enhanced and facilitated.[38]

28.  Nor did it identify how the role of "civil society", the term used to describe the wider social community, including the voluntary sector, might be enhanced, in order to promote its greater involvement in social issues and its greater participation in decision-making processes. There are many important issues that would need to be addressed if there were to be a greater involvement of civil society in the decision-making processes of the Union, including:

·  the definition of what constitutes "civil society";

·  the different functions that civil society can perform in the Union,

·  the difference in outcomes between greater consultation of civil society and greater involvement in decision-making processes;

·  how civil society would be supported by the Union;

·  the criteria for deciding which groups from civil society should be given a greater role to play in the Union; and

·  whether there is a role for "pan-European" representation of civil society (and of the social partners) given the greater processes of European integration.

29.  We cannot do more than flag up these as issues that will need to be addressed if, in order to secure greater diversity in the governance structures and processes of the Union, the Union wishes to accord a greater role to the social partners and civil society.[39]

37   Szyszczak, op. cit. Back

38   The Committee did not receive any evidence on the practical difficulties currently experienced by the social partners. Some evidence of the problems is to be found in A. Jacobs, "The Role of EU Institutions" in P. Olsson, et al. Transnational Trade Union Rights in the European Union, Arbetslivsrapporter 1998:36 (Arbetslivsisitutet, Stockholm, 1998). Back

39   In a recent report on new proposals for employment and social policy in the European Union the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament called for the participation of civil society to be strengthened. It called on Member States to "develop mechanisms aimed at ensuring the involvement of representative non-governmental organisations in the preparation and evaluation of National Action Plans" (PE 316.404, paragraph 25). Back

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