European Integration and the Welfare State

Social Protocol

European Union: Social Protocol

by Kevin Chernosky

The Maastrict Treaty on European Union (TEU) went into affect in 1993. Though not part of it, the Social Charter was part of the same process. It was a binding agreement among eleven of the then twelve member states of the European Union (EU). The Social Protocol represented the commitment to establish similar social provisions for all EU citizens. In this sense, it was a major step toward a social Europe.

The policy process in the EU starts with consultation of the member states. The European Commission (EC) presents the member states with a Green Paper on a given issue. The member states respond to questions voiced in the Commission's paper with comments and suggestions, which are then considered before issuing a White Paper. This is a statement of the Commission's findings on the issue at hand. This process also applies to social policy. After the release of the white paper, the Commission can propose legislation.

Social policy related to the single market falls under the co-decision process established in the Maastrict Treaty. Under this procedure the commission submits a proposal to the Council of Ministers (Council) and the European Parliament (EP). The EP then gives the Council its opinion on the proposal. It is decided by the Council through a process of qualified majority voting (QMV) to establish a single common position on the proposal. QMV is a form of weighted voting that replaces the use of unanimity in the area of social policy. The original proposal along with the Council's common position (and an explanation of it) is given to the EP. The EP then has three options. It can approve the Council's common position and the proposal becomes law. It can take no action on the Council's common position for three months at which time the Council may enact the proposal. The EP can also reject the proposal by an absolute majority (50% + 1) vote and notify the Council (See Archer and Butler).

If the last option is taken, a committee is formed. It is made up of Council members as well as an equal number of members of the EP. They discuss the differences in the proposal. If the EP rejects once more the Commission proposal by an absolute majority vote, the EP is allowed to suggest amendments to the proposal. If the Council approves these amendments, the proposal is adopted with the new amendments added to it. However, if the Commission disagrees with any of the amendments, the Council will have to vote unanimously to put the proposal into effect. Proposals can become one of two kinds of EU law, directives and regulations. Directives are issued at the EU level but are required to be implemented by member states through national law. Regulations are implemented at the EU level and are binding to all member states (see Archer and Butler).

The Co-decision procedure provides the European Parliament, the only directly elected EU institution, with more power vis--vis the Council and Commission. Qualified majority voting on social policy issues also helps to prevent one member country from holding an issue hostage by vetoing legislation against the will of the other members' votes.

What has been the role of the European Court of Justice and the European Social Partners?

The primary role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is to interpret EU treaties. The ECJ has been given increasingly more room to expand the power of the EU. This is especially true in regard to the Maastrict Treaty and the Social Protocol. Since the ECJ has the power to resolve conflict between National and EU law. Any time the legality of an act by a member state of the EU comes into question, the ECJ must interpret the treaties of the EU and determine whether the action is legal. As national social policies conflict with enactments by the EU, the ECJ is called upon with increasing regularity to make legal decisions. In this way, the ECJ acts much like the U.S. Supreme Court. As such, the ECJ has been taking a pro-EU stance on many of its interpretations leading to far reaching implications of its decisions for national policies, especially national welfare regimes (see Wood and Yesilda).

How are labor market issues (developing a single currency/single market) linked to the Social Dialogue?

The Social Dialogue refers to the communication between government and those affected by the laws of that government with regard to social policy. In the case of the EU, the social dialogue takes place between the EU, national governments, and the social partners. Together they discuss social issues. Social Dialogue is useful to promote close cooperation between business and labor as well as governments. This cooperation is intended to lead to a more cohesive European social dimension.

Labor market issues are closely linked to the social dialogue because the latter helps insure the similarity of rules and conditions within different member states of the EU. In other words, the social dialogue insures the cohesion necessary for a successful European labor market. It is, thus, no coincidence that the social dialogue gained in importance after the EU guaranteed free movement of goods, services and people under the Single European Act (SEA) of 1986. This meant that businesses as well as people could now move freely within the EU. Without the insurance of similar practices and standards, some countries in the EU may have an unfair advantage over their fellow member states. For example, a country with lower wages and fewer pollution regulations may attract more business because it is cheaper to operate there.

How are member states especially new members impacted by the Social Dialogue?

Member states are affected by the social dialogue because it provides a forum for the discussion of issues specific to their member state. In this way, a member state can attempt to shift the agenda to address issues that would most benefit their country. New member states to the EU find the social dialogue especially useful because it allows for the discussion of regional funding and other such issues aiding in their full integration into the EU.

What is meant by European Social Citizenship and where is it enshrined?

The concept of a European social citizenship refers to the idea that any citizen of any country in the EU is entitled to all the same benefits that any other country of the EU grants its own citizens. This implies that a citizen of the EU is not only a citizen of his or her own country, but also in fact of every country of the EU.

This idea is enshrined in the four freedoms guaranteed by the Single European Act (SEA 1986). It was not explicitly defined until an ECJ ruling in the Casis de Dijon case. There, the ECJ ruled that a product sold in one member state could not be kept out by the rules of another member state. In short, every country in the EU acknowledges that the provisions honors, grants, etc. given to a person by any one EU member state have equal validity in any other country. Mutual recognition was necessary to ensure an actual freedom of movement (see Pierson and Liebman).

Kevin Chernosky

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