Conference on tripartism


EU Presidency Conference on Tripartism in an enlarged European Union

Co-organised by the Danish Ministry of Employment and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Hotel Comwell, Elsinore, Denmark
29-30 October 2002

See also conference information from the Danish Ministry of Employment.

Speech abstract - Mária Ladó
Head of Inter-Ministerial Expert Group on Social Policy Chapter and Senior Advisor, Ministry of Economic Affairs, National Labour Centre, Hungary

Tripartite legacy - brought along by candidate countries to the EU

National tripartite co-operation has been a key element of industrial relations in all candidate countries to the European Union. It has, however, also been a remarkably differing phenomenon, especially as regards its origin and actual impact.

In candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe, tripartite co-operation has emerged and developed as an indispensable part of the economic, social and political transition process. National tripartism for these countries has held two outstanding promises

  • to maintain the predominant role of the government while moving gradually towards the democratisation of economic and social policy making, alongside with the overall restoration of democratic institutions;
  • to gain the consent of social partners on how to distribute the foreseen burden of transition.

Indeed, tripartism has proved to be a suitable instrument to manage the profound economic changes successfully, while ensuring an unexpectedly peaceful return to market rules.

As a contrast, tripartite co-operation in candidate countries of Southern Europe has deeper and more organic roots. In Malta and Cyprus, national tripartism has, for a long time, been considered as a general approach to address issues of common interest rather than as an instrument to confront critical period

Over the past decade, candidate countries have established a wide range of formal tripartite bodies dealing with broad economic and social policies; or with more circumscribed issues such as occupational health and safety, vocational training or, more recently, the European integration. Tripartism has also penetrated, in a number of countries concerned, into the fields of social security. This presentation will, nevertheless, narrow its focus on tripartite bodies involved in economic and social policy formulation.

The actual impact of these tripartite bodies has ranged from rather important to less significant. Tripartite co-operation on several occasions has led to genuine tripartite national agreements covering a broad range of issues. However, it has often been limited to the exchange of information or remained a rather formal exercise hiding the dominance and/or prevailed exclusive control of the state.

This situation can be traced back partly to the institutional arrangements themselves - as it will be argued in the presentation by outlining briefly the functions and powers of the most important tripartite bodies in the candidate countries. Much more important is, however, the willingness of the parties to co-operate, especially the commitment of the government. The ups and downs observed in national tripartism in most candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe have been primarily brought about by the shifts in governments' attitude regarding the involvement of social partners in national public policy formulation.

The presentation, having provided a general picture of the recent tripartite co-operation in the economic and social policy field in the candidate countries, will address three questions:

  1. How can the traditions of national tripartism in candidate countries be used to promote the successful enlargement? What are the prospects for national tripartism after accession?
  2. How can the new Member States use their tripartite experience and culture in facing the new challenges in the post enlargement years?
  3. How can the strong tripartite legacy of new Member States contribute and enrich the European social dialogue?

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Questions for discussion:

  1. How can the national tripartite co-operation be made more meaningful for all parties concerned?
  2. What might be the reasons that no tripartite or broader pacts have been signed on European integration? What could have been the positive implications of a comprehensive pact?
  3. What could be the future nature of national level co-operation? More consultation or less negotiation? Multipartite co-operation instead of/supplementing tripartism?
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