The EU and National Systems of Labour Law

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This chapter considers the variety of ways in which the EU has an impact on the development of national labour law systems. It thus considers not only ‘EU labour law’ but also other aspects of EU law and policy (in particular EU internal market law, and the EU responses to the unemployment and debt crises) that have an impact on the world of work.
The relationship between EU internal market law and Eurozone governance, on the one hand, and labour law, on the other, raises profound questions as to the nature of EU integration and the (changing) structure of the Treaties. These questions can be conceptualized in a variety of different ways—for example, in terms of the relationships between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ integration, between ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Member States, and between uniformity and diversity within Europe. The relationship between the European integration process and labour law has been, and will continue to be, a difficult one. It is therefore unsurprising that the vast majority of labour lawyers are pessimistic about the future for labour law in Europe. This is for three main reasons. First, there has, in recent years, been little social legislation adopted at the European level. Moreover, the legislation that has been adopted is flexible, and is interpreted in creative ways—often against the interests of workers—by the Court of Justice. Second, EU internal market law imposes restrictions on states’ (and trade unions’) capacity to apply labour law standards to mobile factors of production. And third, the demands of Eurozone (and crisis) management are resulting in sharp downward pressures on social standards in all Member States, in particular in those relying on the EU and IMF for financial support.
While it is of course possible that the future will bring more positive news on
each of these three fronts, the current constellation appears bleak.
It seems to me that the two most difficult questions, which will be addressed
in the remainder of this chapter, are the following. First, what is the relationship
between European integration and labour law, and how has that relationship
evolved since the compromise reached in the Treaty of Rome? And second, at the level of both constitutional principle and practical reality, how does one ensure that a fair balance is struck between ‘the economic’ and ‘the social’?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Handbook of EU Law
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • EU law, labour law

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