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EU Social Dimenson: Reviving The EU Social Dimension: A Political Choice

The social dimension of the EU is on the verge of becoming insignificant. At practically all levels there has been a systematic weakening of Social Europe: aims, programmes and instruments have been reduced in the areas of employment policy, labour law and labour relations.

The Community is rolling back previous achievements. Workers and trade unions are losing out. This is particularly evident in three areas.

First, in the euro crisis the European Employment Strategy and the Open Method of Coordination were systematically subordinated to economic-policy aims. In the European Semester – the annual process of co-ordinating EU Member States’ economic policies – the economic and finance ministers have their hands firmly on the tiller. Half of all labour market and social policy recommendations for the Member States are based on legal provisions in the Stability and Growth Pact or the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure. Thus, they come within the competence of finance ministers.

Labour and social affairs ministers are marginalised when it comes to their proper concerns. The upshot of all this is recommendations to deregulate national labour markets, decentralise wage systems and restructure social insurance in line with budgetary criteria. The social partners, generally speaking, have weak consultation rights. Trade unions are bypassed.

The EU’s labour market and social policy measures have long amounted to a comprehensive “labour market strategy”. Acknowledging this reality would be a first step for social policy actors towards a stronger say. Instead of continuing to put up with the thematic constriction of the European Employment Strategy the relevant ministers should insist on equal footing with finance ministers. In an era of European inter-governmentalism, a Eurogroup of social and labour ministers is their best bet.

Read more: Reviving The EU Social Dimension: A Political Choice

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