The EU and institutional change in industrial relations in the new Member States

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Although the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides explicit competence for the EU to promote social dialogue only in relation to the European level, the Union has also encouraged such dialogue at the national level. This has been particularly the case in relation to the development of industrial relations systems in the candidate and new Member States (NMS). In this chapter we will first look at why the EU got at all involved with IR in the enlargement countries (section 2). It is argued that a developed social dialogue is considered a stabilising factor for economic and social cohesion in these countries and in the single market, as well as a necessary condition for the European social dialogue to function effectively. The (lack of) strong industrial relations infrastructure in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has proven particularly challenging in this respect. Social dialogue has therefore been proposed to the candidate countries as a criterion to join the EU. However, there are inherent limits to how social dialogue can be set as a conditionality requirement for EU membership; due to a lack of a single industrial relations model and a coherent normative theory; and because of the principle of autonomy of industrial relations and a weak binding social acquis on IR (section 3). In section 4 we analyse how the EU, and in particular the European Commission, has nevertheless given a maximalist interpretation to the ‘social acquis’, mainly by reference to the ‘administrative’ or ‘institutional acquis’ needed to implement it. In this way, the Commission aimed to strengthen the IR infrastructure in the candidate countries, although it was more a practice of persuasion than a stringent condition to join the EU. Having an established IR infrastructure has never been a stringent condition for membership in a way that for instance political and judiciary institutions and principles of free market economy have been.The inherent limits in requiring such an infrastructure and the fact that IR systems cannot simply be established by decree but require bottom-up development imply that the EU has paid particular attention to providing funding for capacity building. With the support of the European and national social partners organisations the social partners’ representatives in the candidate and new Member States are expected to learn from their counterparts in the old Member States (section 5).
Translated title of the contributionThe EU’s Promotion of Social Dialogue in the New Member States
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe European Union and Industrial Relations. New Procedures, New Context
EditorsStijn Smismans
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)978-0-7190-8672-4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


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