Representativeness studies: methodology

This document summarises the background to and objectives of Eurofound’s representativeness studies. It describes the process of carrying out the study, the involvement of the social partners and the quality control procedure. It is aimed at European and national sectoral social partner organisations.


Eurofound’s studies on the representativeness of European sectoral social partner organisations are designed to provide the basic information needed for the establishment and functioning of sectoral social dialogue committees at European level. These committees provide fora for the autonomous work of the social partners (information exchange, joint action and negotiation) and a mechanism for the Commission to consult management and labour on developments and initiatives having social implications for the sector concerned, in accordance with Article 154 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

Eurofound’s European Industrial Relations Dictionary explains the concept of representativeness:

‘Representativeness is a criterion used by the Commission to identify the “management and labour” whom it must consult and who may initiate the social dialogue (Article 154 TFEU). While the Treaty provisions do not refer to the criterion of “representativeness”, the Commission was clearly drawn to this criterion for identifying organisations which can claim to be the “management and labour” with the rights to consultation, to initiate social dialogue, and to reach and implement agreements.’

The Commission’s assessment of representativeness concerns the European actors, not the national organisations affiliated to them. However, in order to assess the representativeness of the European actors, it is necessary to gather data on their national affiliates.


In 1998, in its Communication on adapting and promoting the social dialogue at Community level (COM(98)322 final), the European Commission set out the framework for sectoral dialogue committees, aimed at promoting dialogue between the sectoral social partners at European level.

The concept of representativeness is not referred to in EU legislation. The Commission first used this concept in its 1993 Communication on the application of the 1992 Agreement on Social Policy. Representativeness became the key issue of dispute in a legal case in 1996 (UEAPME v. Council of the European Union, Case T-135/96), through which UEAPME challenged the legality of the Parental Leave Directive. The European Court of First Instance (CFI), while rejecting UEAPME's claim, asserted that agreements reached through social dialogue – which are then transposed into directives – may be challenged on grounds of their democratic legitimacy. The CFI deemed this necessary, since the Directive was not subject to scrutiny by the European Parliament. Since this ruling, it has been the legal responsibility of the European Commission to identify the European social partners which are eligible to engage in European social dialogue.

In 2006, the European Commission mandated Eurofound to carry out studies on the representativeness of European social partner organisations, with the aim of identifying the relevant national and supranational interest associations in the field of industrial relations in selected sectors. Up to the end of 2014, almost 40 studies have been compiled by Eurofound.

Overview of process

Criteria for inclusion in the study

European associations are analysed via the ’top-down‘ approach if they:

  • are on the Commission’s list of interest organisations to be consulted on behalf of the sector under Article 154 TFEU;
  • and/or participate in the sector-related European social dialogue.

The Commission may decide to include other EU sector-related organisations in the study, if relevant, e.g. a sector-related organisation which has recently requested to be consulted under Article 154 TFEU.

Demarcation of the sector

Every sector is demarcated in terms of NACE (Rev. 2) codes. All existing sectoral social dialogue committees have been demarcated with a NACE code, which defines the scope of economic activities covered by the committee. The NACE code to be applied in each sectoral representativeness study is confirmed by the European Commission after consultation with the social partners.

Carrying out the study

The study consists of two parts: 28 national contributions and one overview report synthesising the contributions.

Eurofound has a network of national correspondents with expertise in industrial relations in place, covering all Member States. These experts are required to gather data on all relevant organisations at national level and to approach them by telephone or email, using standardised questionnaires. While the questionnaires are in English, correspondents can interview or contact the organisation in the relevant national language. The questionnaires are completed by the national correspondents.

Determining sector-relatedness

European and national social partners are considered to be ‘sector-related’ if their membership domain relates to the sector in one of the ways listed in the table below. Put simply: any organisation organising membership in the sector is deemed to be sector-related.

Inclusion of national associations

A national association is considered to be a relevant sector-related interest association if it meets both criteria A and B:

  • A. The association’s domain relates to the sector.
  • B. The association is either:
    • affiliated to a European-level organisation, which is analysed in the study within the top-down approach (independent of their involvement in collective bargaining); or, if not,
    • regularly involved in sector-related collective bargaining.

Role of the national correspondents

The national correspondents contact both the national affiliates of the relevant EU-level organisations as well as other national sector-related organisations.


A standardised questionnaire for the national contributions has been developed by Eurofound, which is completed by Eurofound’s network of correspondents to produce the 28 national contributions. This questionnaire contains the following topics:

  • Sectoral features (e.g. development of employment);
  • Overview of sectoral industrial relations;
  • Collective bargaining in the sector (system and short list of agreements);
  • Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies;
  • Data on the individual national organisations (‘fact-sheets’).

Overview report

Based on these national contributions, an external contractor mandated by Eurofound compiles an overview report. This contains the following topics:

  • Employment and economic trends (succinct);
  • National interest representation (organisational strength, collective bargaining, participation in public policy);
  • European-level interest representation (membership domain and composition, mandate and capacity to negotiate of the established representatives); and an assessment to what degree other actors active at the European level represent members in the sector;
  • Conclusions as regards the representativeness of the European social partner organisations in relation to the sector.

EU-level social partners: mandate and capacity to negotiate

The European sectoral social partners should be able to prove their capacity to negotiate on behalf of their affiliates and to enter into ‘contractual relations, including agreements’ (Article 155 TFEU), i.e. the capacity to commit themselves and their national affiliates. This criterion does refer to the capacity to negotiate agreements as provided for in Article 155 TFEU; negotiating other types of joint texts (such as joint opinions, frameworks of action, guidelines, etc.) – however valuable they may be – is not considered to be sufficient in this context.

A European organisation has the capacity to negotiate such an agreement if it has received a mandate to do so from its affiliates, or if it can receive such a mandate in accordance with a given mandating procedure.

The mandate/mandating procedure can be either statutory, i.e. laid down in the statutes (constitution) of the organisation or annexed to them, or non-statutory, i.e. laid down in secondary (formal) documents, such as rules of procedures, memoranda of understanding or decisions by the governing bodies of the organisation. The mandate will be described in terms of the conditions and procedure for the European social partner organisation to be given the authorisation to enter into a specific negotiation, as well as for the ratification of a possible agreement.

If no such formal mandating procedure can be identified, it should be considered that the condition concerned is not fulfilled.

European social partners will be asked to provide proof of their statutes or any other written documentation, describing their mandate and capacity to negotiate as well as the ratification procedures in place.

Quality control procedure

In order to ensure the quality of the information gathered, the process involves a series of verification procedures and feedback loops with the different parties involved: European and national social partner organisations, the European Commission and Eurofound.

  • Stage 1: Eurofound and the contractor for the overview report check the national contributions for consistency and correct application of the standard methodology.
  • Stage 2: The national contributions are sent to the European social partners and Eurofound’s tripartite Governing Board. The European social partners distribute the contributions to the national social partners to evaluate the quality of the reports and provide amendments and corrections, where necessary.
  • Stage 3: The European social partners are invited to a formal evaluation meeting of the study, where the overview report is presented and discussed.

Timeframe and actors involved



Indicative duration

Kick-off meeting (either face to face or by telephone)

Commission, EU social partners, Eurofound

2–6 weeks

Confirmation of NACE code

EU social partners and Commission

Provision of membership lists and contact persons within national affiliates

EU social partners

Tendering, award of contract


2–3 months

Launch of questionnaire in Eurofound’s network


Start of fieldwork: national organisations are contacted

Eurofound national correspondents and national social partners

National questionnaires completed; first revision


6–8 weeks

Quality control: national contributions are sent to the stakeholders for verification and comments; EU social partners forward them to their affiliates

EU social partners and national social partners, Commission and Eurofound Governing Board members (covering employers, trade unions and government representatives in all Members States)

5–8 weeks

Second revision of national contributions

Eurofound/contractor/national correspondents

4 weeks

Drafting of overview report


2–4 weeks

Draft final overview report sent for evaluation to EU social partners and Commission


4 weeks before evaluation meeting

Evaluation meeting: EU social partners and Commission to assess and evaluate the study and to advance comments on the overview report

Eurofound invites EU social partners to a meeting of the Advisory Committee for industrial relations (of which the Commission is a Member)


Send further comments in writing

EU social partners

1–2 weeks after the evaluation meeting

Editing and publication of overview report


8–12 weeks after final acceptance of the report

Social partners’ requirements

European-level sectoral social partners are required to provide:

  • Information regarding the specificities of the sector, overall and/or in specific countries, that should be taken into account in the context of the study (kick-off meeting)
  • A list of affiliates by country, including a contact person (+ contact details) in each organisation that could be approached by Eurofound’s national correspondents
  • Their support in encouraging the national affiliates to participate and reply to the correspondents
  • Their response to the overview report contractor or Eurofound staff who will contact the European-level sectoral social partner in order to obtain:
    • its organisational statutes, and
    • other relevant information regarding its mandate and capacity to negotiate on behalf of its members and to ratify agreements as per Article 155 TFEU.
  • Their active involvement in the quality control of the national contributions by commenting on them; they should also forward the national contributions to their affiliates and encourage them to send their comments
  • Their active involvement in the quality control of the overview report, by submitting their comments and taking part in the evaluation committee

National social partners are required to provide

  • Details of a suitable contact person, who can inform Eurofound about their involvement in the sectoral industrial relations in the country
  • Their response to Eurofound’s national correspondent – generally correspondents use both email and telephone
  • Their judgement in assessing the quality of the national contribution (which will be sent either via the European-level organisation, or via Eurofound’s Governing Board members. Does the contribution correctly reflect the sectoral industrial relations in the country? Are the details in relation to the organisation correct?
  • Additional comments on the overview report, if required, which should be submitted via the European social partners, or via Eurofound’s Governing Board members.

Further information

Eurofound is looking forward to working with the social partner organisations on the representativeness studies. It is our aim that each study will be useful and a good source of information for the sectoral social dialogue.
If you have any further questions in relation to the sectoral representativeness studies, please see

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