06 December 2019

Representativeness is the term used by the European Commission in determining the legitimate participants in social dialogue, provided for under Articles 154/155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). To qualify, organisations must relate to specific sectors or categories and be organised at the European level, have member organisations that are recognised and an integral part of a Member State’s social partnership structure with the capacity to negotiate agreements, and have adequate structures to ensure effective participation in consultation processes.

EU context

At EU level, the European Commission first delineated the concept of representativeness in 1993, defining it more clearly in 1998 in its Decision 98/500/EC on the establishment of Sectoral Dialogue Committees. Representativeness forms the basis for allowing European social partner organisations to be included in the list of organisations to be consulted by the Commission as set out in Article 154 of TFEU, and for providing legally binding implementation of their agreements as laid down in Article 155 of TFEU. Representativeness legitimises their role and effective participation in European sectoral social dialogue committees. It is also about having the capacity to negotiate, which is crucial in negotiations leading to agreements implemented by Council Decision. 


Eurofound carries out studies on the representativeness of European sectoral social partner organisations, in line with the request it received from the Commission in 2006. 

These representativeness studies are carried out across multiple sectors and are designed to provide the basic information needed for the setting up and functioning of the European sectoral social dialogue committees. The research aims to identify the relevant national and European social partner organisations in each sector in the field of industrial relations in the EU Member States. 

A decade on from first carrying out these studies, Eurofound analysed the European concept of representativeness, reviewing key elements such as electoral success, organisational strength in terms of membership, and the capacity to negotiate. The analysis can contribute to the discussion on whether elements of Eurofound’s methodology in its representativeness studies need to be adjusted.

Key messages

  • Representativeness has various meanings across the EU Member States and Norway. In practice, few national systems correspond to an unalloyed form of either mutual recognition or legal conformity. Member States employ a combination of these principles, applying a mix of both formal and informal criteria.
  • Certain drivers have the potential to contribute in different ways to representativeness of social partners: electoral success, organisational strength in terms of the scope of membership, and the capacity to negotiate. 
  • Thresholds, where they exist, are less common for employers than for trade unions. Employer thresholds are either a requirement for the extension of collective agreements or a criterion permitting access to tripartite bodies. 
  • Eurofound analysis argues that four models of representativeness coexist: social partner self-regulation; mixed social partner and state regulation; state regulation membership strength; and state regulation electoral strength. 
  • Organisations must meet certain criteria to be consulted by the Commission. For instance, they must be: organised horizontally or sectorally at European level; composed of organisations that are themselves regarded at their respective national levels as representative of the interests they defend; represented in all Member States of the European Community and, possibly, of the European Economic Area, or have participated in the ‘Val Duchesse’ social dialogue; composed of organisations representing employers or workers, membership of which is voluntary at both national and European level.

Publication: The concept of representativeness at national, international and European level

Data and resources


Ongoing work

  • Other representativeness studies on a variety of sectors to provide the European Commission required information to assess the representativeness of European sectoral social partner organisations.


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