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.

Statement by Elefth. Tziolas
Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Greece

Tripartism in an enlarged European Union

Mr. Chairman,
Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, I would like to congratulate the Danish Presidency and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions for organising this significant conference and thank you for the invitation that you were kind enough to extend me. I would like to acknowledge that the Danish colleagues are holding an excellent Presidency, enriched with high-level events, in tune with the quests of the society of citizens of the present as well as the future, enlarged European Union. The Greek Presidency aspires to continue this good effort.

A while ago, at the end of August, during the annual Foundation Forum, I had the opportunity to underline the significance of the participation of social partners in preserving and developing the European social model. Indeed, we are strongly convinced that the promotion of social dialogue is a sine qua non element for the success of the two core targets that will determine the future of Europe: enlarging the European Union and deepening the European unification.

There is no doubt that social dialogue promotes the democratic operation of the EU, strengthens social cohesion and makes the European social model more effective. In a Europe going through continuous social and economic change, in an environment affected by the intensity of competition, the cyclical periods of growth and recession and with the fifth and biggest enlargement of the European Union under way, it is all the more important to secure social cohesion and prevent social exclusion phenomena.

For this reason, we welcome the initiative of the Danish Presidency to associate the promotion of social dialogue with the major issue of social inclusion. This initiative comes in furtherance of the positive developments relating to the participation of social partners in a broad area of matters, such as the:

  • application of the European Employment Strategy,
  • development of effective social protection policies,
  • promotion of lifelong learning,
  • modernisation of health and safety at work systems,
  • safeguarding of fundamental rights and equal opportunities.

Particularly since 2000, social partners have been called to participate in the application and evaluation of the Employment Strategy, as determined by the Lisbon European Council, and the Social Policy Agenda, adopted by the Nice Council. At the same Council, it was decided to establish an annual tripartite summit - in the context of tripartite concertation - before the spring European Council. In December 2001, at Laaken, the Council welcomed the wishes of social partners to work out a common multi-annual working programme, which is pending. The wish of partners to upgrade the process of tripartite concertation was also underlined, by the establishment of the tripartite social summit on economic growth and employment.

The Barcelona European Council confirms in its conclusions that social dialogue is a fundamental component of the European social and development model.

Today, European social dialogue covers two fundamental functions: consultation and negotiation.

This reality is rooted in the history of the European continent, is a distinctive feature of the European Union and underlines the fact that social dialogue, conducted in different forms in member states, is an element of democratic governance, economic planning and social concertation at the same time. The effectiveness of social dialogue is already proved in a tangible way: negotiations between social partners at European level resulted in agreements on parental leave, part-time work, fixed-term contracts, and tele working.

We should underline that, in the present conditions, there is a need to intensify social dialogue and reinforce the role of social partners. The Lisbon strategy on full employment and greater social cohesion gives priority to the need to synchronise economic policies with employment and social protection policies. It introduces new methods for participation in the implementation and evaluation of the employment strategy, such as the open method of co-ordination. Social partners are called to respond to these challenges actively. For this reason, their structural and institutional capacity needs further strengthening without, of course, limiting their autonomy in action and opinions.

In this context, the initiative of the Commission to issue a relevant Communication last June was very positive, in order to:

  • express its opinions on the future of European social dialogue,
  • propose specific measures that reinforce the role of social partners,
  • recommend to the Council the establishment of tripartite social summit for growth and employment.

The proposed measures relate to four fields, very critical for the quality of the contribution of social dialogue in Europe's democratic governance: improved consultation, representation of social partners, reinforced participation of different levels and transparency of social dialogue.

The Commission's proposals are a well-elaborated framework for the promotion of a dynamic social dialogue. The greater involvement of social partners from the first stages of planning, specialisation and implementation of guidelines is required in order for social dialogue to become a promotion force.

Henceforth, social dialogue at all levels, European, national, local and interprofessional, should enlarge its agenda. In order for social dialogue to become a tool for modernisation, social partners should take advantage of a broad spectrum of available activities and means, from the coordination process to the negotiation of agreements. To this end, useful tools are made available to the partners by the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) and the European Monitoring Centre for Change (EMCC), established recently in the framework of the Dublin Foundation.

The updated social dialogue agenda should include, as a top priority, one of the most important stakes of European integration, the oncoming enlargement, and the largest in the history of the EU. Most of the countries under accession, especially the Central and Eastern European countries, have undergone during the last decade radical reform of their economic, social and political structures. In several candidate countries, change did not always take place without problems. This fact has affected both the Industrial relations and the productive and social coefficients.

The Committee, in its Communication in June 2002 on European social dialogue, and the social partners, in their common statement at Laaken, noted a social dialogue deficit in the candidate countries and underlined the need to take advantage of the available technical and financing means to support social partners so that they can assume the role assigned thereto by the Treaty.

We acknowledge that the role of social partners in the candidate countries should be catalytic and, at the same time, very demanding. Without disregarding the implementation of important support actions with the assistance of the EU, as well as the bonds created with EU social partners at interprofessional and sectoral levels (including, as an indication only, the common conferences of Warsaw and Bratislava), we should underline that social partners in the candidate countries should ponder over two challenges:

  • strengthen their activity at European level so as to influence the process of enlargement,
  • develop their organisational structures so as to promote an effective social dialogue within the candidate countries.

It is anticipated that the modernisation of industrial relations and the upgrading of social dialogue in many candidate countries will relate to the economic growth rates and, from this point of view, will remain in the shadow of economic developments, perhaps for a long period of time. This may present obstacles to the application of the goals of the Lisbon strategy, especially if it combines with the application of classical economic recipes for reducing labour cost. On the contrary, let me point out that what will be needed is to increase labour productivity by enhancing quality and rationally utilising human resources.

Dear colleagues, I am convinced that the countries with the most cohesive social protection and social cooperation policies exhibit the most effective economic policies. Convergence with the EMU targets was not accomplished by scorning social dialogue and collective bargaining but, on the contrary, by properly activating all social coefficients. Strengthening social dialogue at all levels, achieving high productivity levels, involving social partners in the transfer of community acquis, may contribute to economic convergence in terms of social justice and solidarity.

The aforesaid objectives will be included in the agenda of the Greek Presidency.

Thank you.

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