The European Union is at a crossroads. There have been timid signs of recovery in the last years in some countries, in particular those most affected by the crisis, but the recovery in many Member States lacks momentum with some Member States in deflation. The financial crisis that struck the EU in 2008 – and which subsequently turned into an economic and social one – continues to have severe effects, with 23.8 million unemployed people in the EU in February 2015 – of whom around 4.85 million were young people under the age of 25 – and many companies, including SMEs are still closing down. Much more effort will be needed to reach the EU unemployment levels prior to the crisis, i.e. 16.2 million people in 2008.
A number of important policy challenges need to be overcome for Europe to fully seize its growth and jobs potential: boost public and private investment, growth and more and better job creation; set a renewed industrial ambition for Europe; invest in high performing public services; aim at the stability of public finances and balanced public budgets; increase the active workforce to meet the demographic change challenge; boost productivity and achieve better working conditions; ensure the sustainability and accessibility of social protection systems for all citizens; invest in research and development and in education and training to tackle school drop-out; make education systems – also at the highest levels – accessible without discrimination; achieve better learning outcomes and more innovative enterprises; and recognise the fact that social dialogue fosters growth and employment.
The ‘Val Duchesse process’ initiated in 1985 by the European Commission led to the emergence of EU cross-industry social dialogue. The agreement, reached by the European social partners in 1991, and incorporated in the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, called for a much stronger role for the social partners in formulating and implementing Community social and employment policy. Following this, the European social partners also developed a more autonomous dialogue, diversifying their instruments. Social dialogue is one of the main pillars of the EU social model.
Today, the European social dialogue needs to further develop in order to reflect and respond to the needs of more diverse economic and social situations in the enlarged European Union. The EU, Member States and social partners should prioritise actions to achieve tangible progress on fostering Europe’s global competitiveness, and inclusive growth and employment in Europe. The economic governance and the recently announced continuous involvement of the European and national social partners in it - implying the consultation of the partners at key moments of the process – also constitute an important challenge for social partners at national and European level.
This is the fifth bipartite work programme of the European social partners. The social partners have an important role, amongst other things, to improve the functioning of the labour markets. Social dialogue, in some countries, is under strain. This fifth work programme also aims at strengthening it at all appropriate levels. Social dialogue is now particularly relevant to achieving solutions that are fair, responsible and effective, contributing to economic recovery, building up social cohesion. To achieve results, there needs to be an ownership and an understanding between the social partners of common goals of creating inclusive growth and employment but also strengthening Europe’s position in the global economy while fostering prosperity and social cohesion within Europe. In this context, our approach is to:
- Address the above mentioned challenges by contributing autonomously to policies affecting directly or indirectly employment and labour markets.
- Foster and strengthen the development of autonomous social dialogue across European countries at inter-professional, sectoral levels and/or within enterprises in line with national industrial relations practices.
- Also continue to act at bipartite and tripartite levels, taking possible European Commission upcoming proposals and initiatives – inter alia resulting from the Commission’s work programmes – as their basis.
- Develop our role in the process of the European semester, which requires a closer and more intense interaction between the European and national levels of the social partners, including in the context of the Social Dialogue Committee.
The European social partners may decide to tackle other issues than those contained in this work programme and consider other means of actions following European Commission consultations in accordance with articles 154-155 of the Treaty on the European Union.