Agreement on Social Policy
In contrast to the Protocol, it was signed by only eleven EU Member States, excluding the United Kingdom. The agreement goes back to the Joint Agreement of the Social Partners of 31 October 1991, which EU social partners had elaborated in the preparation of the intergovernmental conference in Maastricht. Both texts are almost identical. The Agreement on Social Policy proposed a constitutionally recognised role for the social partners in the community legislative process, which had formerly engaged only the EU institutions. At the same time, a major extension of EC competences in employment and industrial relations was proposed, allowing for qualified majority voting with respect to some of the new competences. The agreement proposed a radical change in the community legislative process for social policy.
The Social Policy Protocol of the Treaty of Maastricht also embodied a compromise in the form of an ‘opt-out’ for the UK, thus creating a ‘twin-track’ EU social policy. On one track, all 12 Member States would continue to observe and to be bound by the previous provisions of the ‘Social Chapter’ of the EC Treaty. On the other track, all 12 Member States agreed that 11 Member States could adopt policies on employment and industrial relations, in accordance with the new procedure laid down in the agreement annexed to the Protocol. It was agreed that the UK would not participate in these procedures, nor would it be bound by the outcome of these procedures.
Between 1992 and 1997, therefore, a ‘two-speed’ Europe operated in employment and industrial relations. In accordance with the new social policy procedures of the Protocol and the Agreement on Social Policy, only 11 Member States signed the Directives on European Works Councils (1994), parental leave (1996) and part-time work (1997). It was not until May 1997 that the newly elected UK government decided to terminate the ‘opt-out.’ The Social Policy Protocol was deleted and the Agreement on Social Policy was incorporated into a revised ‘Social Chapter’ of the EC Treaty by the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam.