Magazine article European Social Policy

European Council : Unions Question Impact of Tripartite Social Summit

Magazine article European Social Policy

European Council : Unions Question Impact of Tripartite Social Summit

Article excerpt

In line with the annual practice for more than a decade, the autumn European Council was preceded by a Tripartite Social Summit bringing together the Council Presidency (and the following two Presidencies), the Commission and representatives of employers and workers. Are these three-hour meetings really useful, though, or is this just a formal exercise meant to appease demonstrators outside the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels?

The severity of the financial crisis has certainly not facilitated dialogue. The social partners(1) nevertheless refuse to condemn the meeting, which gives them a unique opportunity to make their views known to European policy makers. "The real problem is determining whether and how our views are taken into account. In recent years, the impact has been relatively limited if not inexistent," explains Bernadette Segol, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Workers' representatives have been repeating the same message since 2008: they want a European social contract as a means to preserve collective bargaining and social dialogue, contribute to economic and social justice and promote growth. "I admit that ideas have progressed since the start of the crisis, but there is room for improvement," adds the general secretary. She suggests, for example, that the meeting should be organised on the basis of documents drafted in advance. Segol also launches the idea of the adoption of Tripartite Social Summit conclusions containing actions or referring to key European principles ("equal pay for equal work" or "the EU's social objectives").

Employers acknowledge that the social summit is not perfect. "But how can we do better when there are around 30 people at the table and especially considering that the social partners do not present shared views," asks an official. …

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