EU level: Latest developments in working life Q2 2019
At the very last moment of its term, the European Parliament adopted a position on the Mobility Package. But the European elections have made the whole process of adoption of new legislation far from being completed. This also applies to the reform of the rules for coordinating social security, since the work has been suspended by the current Parliament. It is now known that Bratislava will become the seat of the European Labour Authority. This update reports on the latest developments in working life in the European Union in the second quarter of 2019.
European Parliament reaches deal on Mobility Package
On 4 April 2019, a few days after attempts to block voting by Eastern European MPs, the European Parliament approved its position to negotiate with the Council on revised rules for the posting of drivers, better enforcement of cabotage rules and rest periods for drivers.
On the first issue, MEPs want the rules for posting to apply to cabotage and cross-border transport, excluding transit and certain bilateral operations. It should be noted that the new Directive (EU) 2018/957 amending the 1996 Posting of Workers Directive will apply to road drivers only from the date of application of specific provisions to be agreed precisely in the Mobility Package under the trilogue procedure (so-called Lex specialis). Regarding cabotage, the MEPs decided that its ‘systematic’ use should still be radically limited, but in a different way from before: a limit of three days was proposed, after which the vehicle should be ‘cooled off’ for 60 hours before providing the service again. The third part of the position concerned the better (in the opinion of MEPs) regulation of rest periods for drivers. They will be able to return home at regular intervals (at least every four weeks). There was also the obligation that drivers’ weekly rest should take place in a hotel rather than the lorry’s cabin. It is worth noting that Parliament was divided in half on the issue: the results of the vote did not reflect political differences, but rather the geographical division of the MEPs from old and new Member States. The majority of the latter opposed the introduction of additional restrictions on international road transport.
As regards the opinions of the social partners, the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) judged it to be a real success, as all their guidelines were fully respected. On the employers' side, optimism was more balanced, if present at all. The International Road Transport Union (IRU) stated that the parliamentary position leaves many unanswered questions, and it is disappointing to find no solutions regarding the specificity of passenger transport. In the opinion of Eastern European carriers, the proposed rules mean ‘putting the brakes on their mobility’.
Reform of social security coordination rules deferred
In a plenary session on 18 April, the European Parliament decided that a vote on the revision of Regulations (EC) No 883/2004 and (EC) No 987/2009 would not take place within the parliament’s current term. This was primarily due to a decision by the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union (COREPER) on 29 March to reject the previously agreed position of the Council, which blocked the trilogue procedure. By a small majority, MEPs decided that more time was needed to update the rules on the coordination of social security systems, which are intended to protect fair access to social security and foster cooperation among Member States. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) regretted the Parliament’s decision, calling it a very negative choice and a missed opportunity for a much needed review of social security rules. Business Europe did not comment on the issue.
Bratislava selected as seat of European Labour Authority
Member States have chosen Bratislava to be the headquarters of the new European Labour Authority (ELA), which is expected to become operational in October 2019. The ELA has been developed to assist Member States and the Commission with their effective application and enforcement of EU labour law related to labour mobility across the EU and the coordination of social security systems. The authority only has the mandate to act in certain areas including the posting and free movement of workers, social security coordination, the social aspects of road transport, and cooperation between the Member States to tackle undeclared work.
The ELA will have a permanent structure comprising of a management board (including representatives of the Member States, the Commission, the European Parliament and social partners), an executive director, as well as a stakeholder group with purely advisory functions (including representatives of the Commission and social partners). The agency has an annual budget of approximately €50 million and 140 staff members are expected to be hired.
Commission opens debate on more effective decision-making in EU social policy
On 16 April, the Commission presented a communication that launched a discussion on how to make decision-making at EU level more efficient in the social field. Most social policy areas where the EU has powers to act are already subject to qualified majority voting. A limited number of areas, however, still require unanimity among Member States and special legislative procedures (in which the European Parliament’s decision-making powers are weaker than the Council’s). The EU treaties include a mechanism that can be used to change this, known as ‘passerelle clauses’. These clauses allow for a shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting under certain circumstances.
The Commission proposes to use passerelle clauses to facilitate decision-making and the adoption of recommendations in the areas of non-discrimination, social security and the social protection of workers. According to the Commission, this would help to guide the modernisation and convergence of social protection systems.
The idea received mixed reactions from the social partners long before the proposal was officially announced. In December 2018, BusinessEurope warned that the Commission should not open a discussion on the use of passerelle clauses in the social domain, as it would only lead to divisive discussions and confusion about the division between the role of the EU and the role of Member States.
SMEunited did not expect using passerelle clauses to bring the subsidiarity principle into question or interfere with the competences of Member States in the social area, but questioned its potential impact on social dialogue.
The European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of general interest (CEEP) warned that the full harmonisation of EU social rights is neither desirable nor politically feasible at present, as divergences between Member States are too great in terms of social and industrial relations systems.
In contrast, a letter from the ETUC in January 2019 essentially supported the Commission's proposal, viewing it as a way to potentially improve the situation of working people at EU level. However, the ETUC stressed that it was important to ensure that the use of passerelle clauses did not change the role of the European social partners as guaranteed under the treaties.
- European Commission: More efficient decision-making in social policy: Identification of areas for an enhanced move to qualified majority voting, COM(2019) 186 final, Strasbourg. (PDF)
In terms of the mobility package, the new European Parliament is expected to complete the trilogue procedure with the Council (if an internal consensus can be reached) and the new Commission on the basis of the position that has already been adopted.
The future of the planned reform to social security coordination systems remains more uncertain. The formula for further processing the Parliament's position is unclear, as the European Parliament rapporteur who prepared the report that was used for the basis of the voting was not elected for a new term.