Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Trade Union Channels for Influencing European Union Policies

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Trade Union Channels for Influencing European Union Policies

Article excerpt

Introduction

Compared with other regions in the world, many trade unions in Europe have a strong national position. Transnationally, the position of trade unions is also relatively strong, since European trade unions have institutionalized arenas in which to influence European Union (EU) policies (Bieler & Schulten, 2008; Clauwaert, 2011; Welz, 2008). European trade union cooperation is well developed and includes both sector and cross-sector activities such as exchanging information and collaborating on training programs, producing statements and mobilizing demonstrations, coordinating collective bargaining, and participating in a social dialogue with European employer organizations through the sectoral European Trade Union Federations (ETUFs)1 and the cross-sectoral European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) (Glassner & Pochet, 2011; Traxler et al., 2008).

While some transnational cooperation aims to improve dialogue and bargaining strategies, much of it is concentrated on EU policies, and trade unions have an important role to play in the development of the 'social market economy' introduced in the Lisbon Treaty. However, trade unions face challenges that must be overcome in order to influence the EU. They are experiencing setbacks through declining membership and a reduced scope for action not only due to rulings by the European Court of Justice (e.g., the so-called Laval Quartet) but also because of austerity policies (Bücker & Warneck, 2010; Marginson, 2014; Scheuer, 2011). In addition, many obstacles to cross-border cooperation remain from the past such as institutional differences, scarcity of union resources, and low interest in the European level among members (Furåker & Bengtsson, 2013; Larsson, 2012). The difficulties in trade union cooperation also increased after the EU enlargements because of differences in working conditions, wage levels, and union structure and interest between old and new member states (Meardi, 2012).

All of this makes it important to study how national trade unions in Europe approach EU policies. There is some comparative work relating to this issue, showing that trade unions not only face different challenges in different countries (GumbrellMcCormick & Hyman, 2013) but also that their views on how to influence EU policies varies: generally speaking Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian trade unions have a tradition of being more 'Eurosceptic' or 'defensive' than continental and southern trade unions. This has been shown, for example, through a hesitancy to give ETUC a strong mandate, and in their reluctance to the development of supra-national wage policies and regulations (e.g., Busemeyer et al., 2008; Furåker & Lovén Seldén, 2013; Glassner & Vandaele, 2012; Gumbrell-McCormick & Hyman, 2013). In addition, there have been differences between more 'activist' approaches among trade unions in the southern and some continental European countries - though with a great internal variation depending on ideology- and more 'constructive' or 'partnership'-oriented trade unions in the north and in the northern continental countries (Larsson, 2014; Mitchell, 2007). However, most previous research focuses on either a few trade unions or gives a general view without specifying how trade unions balance different channels to influence EU policies. The only study presenting specific information on the latter issue is Nergaard and Dølvik (2005), though with a focus on the Nordic countries only. In addition, there is research focusing on a particular forum of influence, such as social dialogue and cooperation through the ETUC (e.g., Clauwaert, 2011; Dølvik, 1997; Gold et al., 2007; Müllensiefen, 2012), sectoral social dialogue (e.g., Kaeding & Obholzer, 2012; Keller & Weber, 2011; Léonard et al., 2011, 2012), coalitions with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (e.g., Bieler & Goudriaan, 2011), or on trade unions' influence on singular policy issues such as the services directive (e. …

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