EU-level social regulation appears in three forms. First, social law: the European Economic Community put in place an extensive body of social legislation but its real impact has remained limited (Teague 2000). This legislation took primarily the form of regulations regarding social security systems and labour law-related directives. The latter were focused on a small number of areas, such as the free movement of workers, gender equality, health and safety in the workplace, working time, employees’ rights, regulations affecting individual labour contracts, the employment of young people, professional mobility and the avoidance of social dumping, and information and consultation in multinational corporations.
Second, framework agreements resulting from European cross-industry social dialogue: the dual function of this dialogue was recognised by the Treaty of Maastricht and entails the obligation on the part of the European Commission to consult with the European ‘social partners’ in drafting social measures and negotiating European agreements that can then be enacted by the Commission in the form of a Community directive. In addition, the principle of the social partners’ collective autonomy (Yannakourou 1995) was acknowledged both at the national and the European level.
Third, the co-ordination of policies by means of the ‘open method’ was used first in the area of employment and then in social exclusion. It was recently extended to the domain of pensions. The co-ordination of employment and social exclusion policies resulted from Treaty-based strategies (Articles 127 and 13 respectively of the Treaty as amended in 1997), but their implementation was a product of the Luxembourg summit on employment (November 1997) and the European Council meeting in Lisbon (March 2000). The open method is a significant innovation in terms of governance methods and introduces new regulatory instruments, such as annual guidelines, National Action Plans (NAPs), recommendations, joint reports by the Commission and the Council, and the exchange of good practices between Member States (Trubek and Mosher 2001).
In this light, European social regulation combines hard and soft law, 1 but