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.

Why is Eurofound carrying out representativeness studies?

Eurofound is conducting representativeness studies at the request of the European Commission. There are three formal reasons why representativeness studies are conducted.

  1. The representativeness of European social partner organisations, as documented by these studies, is the basis for the right to be consulted in the light of Article 154 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
  2. Representativeness is a criterion for their participation in a European Sector Social Dialogue Committee (ESSDC) (based on Article 1 of Commission Decision 500 of 1998).
  3. It is the legitimacy basis for their capacity to negotiate agreements, implemented autonomously or by council directive, as foreseen in Article 155 of the TFEU.

Beyond these formal reasons why Eurofound is conducting representativeness studies, they can help to obtain a better overview of all national organisations in a sector. They can also contribute to identifying opportunities for capacity building in countries where the study identifies national organisations that are not yet represented in the ESSDC of the given sector.

When a representativeness study for a given sector is updated (currently around every 7–8 years) it aims to capture the major changes occurring in the sector affecting the industrial relations landscape, as well as the transformations of the trade unions and employers’ organisations representing the different activities in the sector.

What does a representativeness study look like?

Representativeness studies start with an introduction, clarifying the objectives and methodology, and describing the ESSDC of the sector which is the object of the study. This is followed by three main chapters.

A first chapter describes trends in employment and the number and structure of employers in the sector. In a second chapter, the national trade unions organising the workers and the organisations representing the employers are listed. What follows is an analysis of the interaction between the social partners at national level in collective bargaining and social dialogue.

The third chapter assesses the representativeness of the European organisations. Here the membership strength of the European social partner organisations is presented based on the affiliated national organisations. The capacity to negotiate on behalf of and represent all the affiliated organisations is assessed. To make a distinction between large and smaller national social partner organisations, a separate analysis is made for the largest and second largest national organisations from each Member State.

These studies also look for the limits of the representativeness of the European organisations in the ESSDC. For this purpose, the national trade unions and organisations representing employers that are not represented in the ESSDC are also listed. Finally, the representativeness of any other European organisation is considered based on their national membership in the relevant sector.

At the end of each report, conclusions of the study can be found, followed by a number of annexes, including a list with the abbreviations and the full name of all the organisations mentioned. All representativeness studies published can be found on this website.

What does the process of drafting a representativeness study look like?

Representativeness studies start with a kick-off meeting organised in cooperation with the European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL), where the European social partners and other relevant sectoral organisations are informed about the study. The European organisations are subsequently asked to provide a list of their member organisations with contact person details in order to allow Eurofound to contact the member organisations effectively and to collect the necessary data for the purpose of the study.

Eurofound has a network of national experts, one (or more) in each of the EU Member States. They are collecting information, for the purpose of representativeness studies, but also for other Eurofound research projects. Eurofound designs a questionnaire to be used in the data collection process by these Eurofound national correspondents. If required, the European social partners are consulted on the draft versions of the questionnaire to ensure relevant information is collected for each sector. Once the data collection at national level is finalised, Eurofound runs a quality check and makes the necessary adjustments to ensure high quality information is gathered. Data from other sources are also gathered, such as statistical data from Eurostat or other published studies on the sector. The entire process of collecting all the data at national level, including the checking and updating, can take up to six months.

In the next stage, information from the 27 national reports is gathered together in an overview report. Part of this work is outsourced to external researchers, which is carefully managed by the Eurofound project manager. It is the role of the Eurofound project manager to liaise with the European Commission, the European social partners, the national correspondents and the individual researchers working on the overview report of a representativeness study. This may involve cross checking of information to ensure the quality of the report.

Subsequently, an informal consultation of the European social partners involved in the sector follows, after which the report is reworked based on comments received. The resulting final draft is formally evaluated by Eurofound’s Industrial Relations Advisory Committee in conjunction with the European social partners from the given sector. After the formal evaluation, the representativeness study is edited and published on the Eurofound website.

For every stage of this process, the contact person at Eurofound is:

Social partner consultation and involvement in the formal evaluation of the draft report before publication

About 14 to 18 months after the kick-off meeting, Eurofound presents a first draft of the representativeness study to the European social partners for consultation. The social partners are given about 4 weeks to submit their written comments, and can consult their national affiliates on how they are presented in the report. If there are cases of organisations missing or mentioned incorrectly, Eurofound checks with the national correspondents, or with the other organisations concerned. This careful triangulation of the information and of the corrections to be made aims to present the industrial relations landscape as clear and correctly as possible, taking into consideration the views of all the stakeholders of the sector. Having integrated all social partners’ comments, a final draft is produced. This draft is submitted for a formal evaluation.

Each representativeness study is formally evaluated in the Eurofound’s Industrial Relations Advisory Committee. This advisory committee is composed of delegates of the Eurofound Management Board. Reflecting the tripartite nature, there are delegates from the governments, trade unions, employers, the European Commission, as well as two independent academic experts. The Industrial Relations Advisory Committee meets twice per year. The European social partners of the sector, and other European organisations representing sectoral trade unions or employers’ organisations from the sector, attend these meetings. Further meetings specifically to evaluate representativeness studies can be organised. Representativeness studies can also be evaluated in a written procedure.

With the comments from the formal evaluation, the representativeness study is finalised by the project manager and handed over to the Eurofound editors for language corrections and formatting of the report. The final version is published on the Eurofound website. The publication happens 25 to 30 months after the kick-off meeting.


The methodology of representativeness studies builds upon the criteria included in Commission Decision 500 of 1998. These are: sector relatedness, membership strength in several EU Member States, capacity to negotiate and means for effective participation in the ESSDC.

For an organisation to be recognised as a representative EU social partner organisation, it must:

  • relate to specific sectors or categories and be organised at European level;
  • consist of organisations that are themselves an integral and recognised part of Member States’ social partner structures, that have the capacity to negotiate agreements and which are representative of several Member States;
  • have adequate structures to ensure its effective participation in the work of the ESSDCs.

Because of the continuous learning while conducting these studies over many years, Eurofound has further fine-tuned and developed the methodology. Exchanges with researchers and other institutions working on topics related to representativeness will help to develop the methodology further.

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: