German social partners set out priorities and demands for German EU Presidency

The German government will hold the EU Council Presidency in the first six months of 1999. In late 1998, the German social partners issued their positions, priorities and demands for the Presidency.

TheCouncil of the European Union is an institution which exercises legislative and decision-making powers and a forum in which the representatives of the governments of the Member States can assert their interests and try to reach compromises. The Council ensures general coordination of the activities of the European Communities. In addition, the Council is responsible for intergovernmental cooperation in common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and in the areas of justice and home affairs (JHA).

The Presidency of the Council plays a vital part in the organisation of the work of the institution, notably as the driving force in the legislative and political decision-making process. It has to organise and chair all meetings and work out compromises capable of resolving difficulties. The Presidency rotates among the Member States every six months.

The 1999 German Council Presidency

Germany's newly elected Social Democratic and Green German government will hold the EU Council Presidency in the first six months of 1999. By November 1998, two months before the start of the German Presidency, no official statement of the government's priorities had been issued. However, information on this issue can be derived from two sources - the policy statement of the new government, and a recent newspaper report.

In his first policy statement, the new Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, declared that unemployment is the "most urgent and grievous problem". He sees a "unique political opportunity offered by the new political constellations which have emerged in Europe" and stated that, "with the election of the new German Government, the fight against unemployment can finally also be tackled at the European level". With regard to the German Presidency, Mr. Schröder stated that his government would advance the European integration process and consider the fight against unemployment top of the European agenda. He emphasised the need for a social Union and declared his intention to take the opportunity to further a European social and employment policy and to establish a European employment pact which will spell out binding goals on issues such as the reduction of youth and long-term unemployment.

On 19 November, the German business newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the newly appointed labour minister, Walter Riester, had forwarded a concept paper on the Presidency of the Labour and Social Affairs Council to the responsible committees of the German parliament. According to Handelsblatt, the two main priorities of the German Presidency in the area of labour and social policy will be as follows:

  • the stability pact on budgetary discipline under Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) will be complemented by an effective employment pact. The German government will plead for the establishment of binding and verifiable employment guidelines, especially as regards reducing youth unemployment and overcoming gender discrimination in the labour market. Special importance is attached to the association of a European employment strategy and a coordinated economic policy; and
  • the level of minimum social standards will be extended.

The positions and demands of the German social partners

In autumn 1998, the German social partners issued their positions, priorities and demands for the German Presidency. In a joint initiative, the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA) and the Confederation of German Industry (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie, BDI) published a Position paper on the German Council Presidency (Positionspapier zur deutschen EU-Ratspräsidentschaft im 1. Halbjahr 1999) and a Memorandum on subsidiarity, transparency and closeness to the citizen within the EU (Memorandum zur Subsidiarität, Transparent und Bürgernähe in der EU) in September and October 1998, respectively. Also in September 1998, the German Confederation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) published a statement setting out its demands (DGB-Forderungen zur deutschen EU-Ratspräsidentschaft).

Below, the core positions and demands of the German social partners on a number of selected issues of relevance to industrial relations are summarised and contrasted.

Economic and Monetary Union

BDI/BDA welcome EMU and stress the necessity of supporting the EMU project with stability-oriented national budgetary and fiscal policies. Policymakers should refrain from limiting competition with European-level agreements, in order not to weaken the position of Europe in global competition and worsen the employment situation. Furthermore, BDI/BDA demand that the Presidency should support at Council level and within the framework of the coordination between the 11 Member States introducing the euro single currency in the first wave, the mechanisms inherent to EMU which promote structural change.

DGB also supports EMU and welcomes the introduction of the euro. However, DGB demands stronger and more effective coordination of labour market and employment policy at EU level, and expects the new German government to take steps to achieve a European employment pact.

Enlargement

On enlargement, BDI/BDA welcome the current negotiations with the five central and eastern European countries (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia) and Cyprus (EU9708143F). They emphasise the need to respect the acquis communautaireand the integrity of the single market. The German employers fully accept freedom of movement as one of the four basic freedoms within the Community and thus believe that it should be fully applied to new members, as long as the acquis communautaireis adequately implemented in the area of social policy. Until this is the case, adequate transition periods should be agreed.

DGB expects from the German Presidency that social policy will receive a high priority in the negotiations with the accession states. Furthermore, the social partners from the European Union and the applicant states should be involved in the negotiations (EU9808123F).

Structural policy

With regard to the Agenda 2000 programme and structural policy, BDI/BDA demand an efficient division of labour and of competences in regional policy between European and national level. The reform of the European Social Fund (ESF) should by no means lead to a transformation of this instrument of labour market policy into an instrument of social policy. In addition, the independence of national labour market and training policies should not be infringed.

DGB puts emphasis on the reform of Objective 3 of the ESF and of the entire Fund. Objective 3 should be oriented towards the EU employment guidelines, and there should be a guarantee that disadvantaged groups in the labour market will benefit.

Employment

BDI/BDA agree that the improvement of the employment situation should be given priority, and that, in accordance with the Amsterdam Treaty (EU9707135F), the EU should coordinate national employment policies without, however, interfering in the competences of the Member States. BDI/BDA demand that the German Presidency should take action against perceived interventionist tendencies among EU-level actors, including undue pressure on the social partners to negotiate. In the context of the struggle against unemployment, BDI/BDA acknowledge the usefulness of "benchmarking" and the exchange of experiences at European level regarding best practices.

DGB demands that employment should be given same priority as the Union's stability-oriented financial targets. DGB demands a stronger and more effective coordination of labour market and employment policy at EU level, as well as an enhancement of the position of the Standing Committee for Employment as the social partners' most important institution for coordination regarding employment policies. In addition, the new German government is expected to take further steps to achieve an European employment pact.

Social policy, pensions and social security

As regards European social policy, BDI/BDA plead for a strict application of the subsidiarity principle and a consideration of the impact of social policy instruments on competitiveness. The German Presidency should ensure that the EU does not accept new instruments which restrict labour market flexibility and burden enterprises with new costs, and thus run counter to competitiveness and employment.

As regards occupational pension schemes, BDI/BDA state that the European Commission has rightly addressed the issue of the necessity of improved incentives and framework conditions for supplementary pensions and individual provision in its 1997 "Green paper on supplementary pensions in the single market". However, BDI/BDA criticise the fact that most of the discussion focuses on "Anglo Saxon"-type pension funds.

On social security, BDI/BDA demand that the German Presidency should underline that the competence in this area lies with the Member States. European-level interventions should be limited to issues which endanger the implementation of the Community's basic freedoms.

With regard to industrial safety and worker protection issues, the German employers believe that EU-wide legal minimum standards have now been ensured and almost completed. However, BDI/BDA take the view that the European framework in this area should be better explained to the groups affected, especially small and medium-sized enterprises.

By contrast, DGB demands new initiatives for the consolidation of a minimum level of social standards, the extension of European social policy legislation, and the adoption of a Directive on equal treatment of employees in "atypical" employment, especially as regards fixed-term contracts (EU9804198N) and temporary work agency employment. Furthermore, the German government should act to ensure the equality of treatment of the sexes. As regards industrial safety and worker protection issues, DGB demands a complete ban on exposure of employees to asbestos.

European Works Councils, information and consultation

According to BDI/BDA, information and consultation are typical of the issues which - given the principle of subsidiarity - should be regulated at national level. The German government should maintain its position that there is no need for action at European level (EU9810133N). Furthermore, it should make sure that there is no introduction via EU regulations of new elements of participation and co-determination in management systems which do not conform with traditional German elements (such as the Community eco-management and audit scheme).

Regarding the debate on the draft Directive on a national employee information and consultation framework, DGB demands that the German government support initiatives by the Commission which improve the rights of employees and their organisations concerning issues which affect them. DGB also wants an initiative to improve the participation rights of employees and trade unions over the shape of environmental legislation and regulations. Furthermore, DGB seeks a revision of the European Works Council Directive (94/45/EC): extending it to companies with fewer than 1,000 employees; establishing effective sanction mechanisms; providing a right to training for EWC representatives; and improving the participation rights in the fall-back subsidiarity provisions, set out in the Directive's annex.

Social dialogue

The German employers regard the strengthening of the EU-level social dialogue as essential, because social policy competences at European level have been extended into areas which, in national systems, are subject to free collective bargaining (Tarifautonomie). The social dialogue is regarded as an important instrument to improve the competitiveness of enterprises and increase labour market flexibility with the ultimate objective of improving growth and employment. In order to be effective, the social dialogue must by no means become "instrumentalised" by the Commission. The German Presidency should support the intervention-free development of the social dialogue.

Modernisation of work organisation

BDI/BDA regard the modernisation of work organisation as an important element in maintaining competitiveness and thus employment. The scope required by individual enterprises should by no means be limited by any new European-level regulation, as for example proposed by the Commission's Social Action Programme 1998-2000 (EU9805104F).

DGB demands the implementation of the insights obtained from the debate on the 1997 Green Paper on Partnership for a new organisation of work (EU9805105F) This has to be supported by experiments in the introduction of participatory management and team/group work, and the exchange of experiences on best-practice models.

European Company Statute

BDI/BDA acknowledge the need for the creation of the European Company (Societas Europea, SE), which up to now has failed due to differences in the Council of Ministers regarding the issue of employee participation (EU9805108N). Although the adoption of the European Company Statute is regarded as an issue of the utmost importance, participation arrangements which discriminate German companies are not acceptable to the employers.

DGB demands that the German Presidency overcomes the impasse in negotiations regarding the issue of co-determination in the European Company (EU9806114N) and achieves a satisfactory solution on this issue.

Public sector

With regard to employment, especially in the private sector, DGB attaches high importance to the public sector, whose performance could play an important role in the competitiveness of "Europe as a production location" (Standort Europa). DGB expects the German Presidency to develop initiatives for a transnational dialogue, not only to secure and extend employment in the private sector and thus to reduce unemployment, but also to provide the people of Europe with competitive and efficient public services. DGB attaches importance to establishing a Council of Ministers on public sector issues and initiating a European-level social dialogue on this matter.

Further DGB demands for new initiatives

In order to extend EU social policy legislation, DGB calls for new initiatives from the German government concerning the following issues:

  • employment through temporary work agencies- DGB demands regulation of cross-border cooperation on administrative issues;
  • working time- DGB seeks a revision of the working time Directive (93/104/EC) with the aim of a reduction of the maximum permissible weekly working hours from 48 hours to 44;
  • further training- all employees should have access to further training, based on regulation;
  • teleworking- DGB wants a framework directive on the social protection of teleworkers;
  • migrant workers- DGB expects the support of the German government for the further extension of social security provisions for migrant workers; and
  • participation and co-determination- DGB expects the German government to further extend the rights of employees.

Commentary

The above overview of the positions, priorities and demands of the German social partners regarding the German Presidency displays their differences on European social policy. More specifically, there are fundamental and almost unbridgeable differences of opinion in relation to the question of what issues should be dealt with at what level, and on individual policy measures, especially as regards the fight against unemployment as well as information/consultation and co-determination. This was to be expected from the interest and lobbying organisations of industry/employers and employees. However, there is agreement on the objective of getting Europe's unemployed people off the dole. And this is the challenge to which all of the future EU Council Presidencies has to rise. (Stefan Zagelmeyer, IW)

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Lisa kommentaar