The Paradigm of Sustainability in a European Social Context: Collective Participation in Protection of Future Interests?

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The treatment by the European Union (EU) of sustainable development, whether concerning economic, social or environmental protection (or some combination of the three) is normally viewed in the context of EU external relations. The aim of this article, however, is to consider the implications of the EU’s internal commitment to sustainability, as required by Article 3(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), addressing the extent to which this provision is capable of being realized in the social context of labour relations. It is argued that sustainable development is an inherently dynamic process requiring broad-based participatory processes, including collective bargaining by trade unions. However, to fulfil this participatory function, trade unions must be allowed to address and bargain over social policy for the future. Unfortunately, what emerges is the lack of positive support in EU and European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) case law for workers’ collective voice which looks forward in the way that sustainable development necessitates. This is evident from judicial determinations on the scope of entitlements to participation in information and consultation mechanisms and collective bargaining. It is also apparent from case law concerning the extent of legitimate aims for collective action and the enforceability of dynamic clauses in collective agreements. Further, the outlook for a future policy shift in the EU does not look promising. More needs to be done at European level to promote workers’ collective participation in building sustainable solutions for the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-262
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Comparative Labour Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015
Event - Institute for Advanced Legal Studies , London, United Kingdom
Duration: 17 Oct 201517 Oct 2015

Structured keywords

  • PolicyBristol
  • Global Political Economy


  • sustainability
  • trade unions
  • development
  • collective bargaining
  • collective agreements


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