The Doorn group is an interregional initiative involving cross-border coordination of collective bargaining aimed at avoiding wage competition and enabling the trade unions to develop bargaining strategies that can lead to real salary increases.
The Doorn group takes its name from the Dutch town where, on 4–5 September 1998, trade union confederations from Belgium (FGTB/ABVV and CSC/ACV), Germany (DGB and DAG), Luxembourg (CGT-L and LCGB) and the Netherlands (CNV, FNV and MHP), as well as major sectoral unions representing metalworking, chemicals, construction and private and public services, met to discuss recent trends in collective bargaining and the possible impact of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The initiative arose when the Belgian unions were confronted in 1996 with a new national law that limited collectively agreed pay increases to a ‘wage standard’ calculated on the basis of the anticipated pay trends in Belgium’s major trading partners (France, Germany and the Netherlands).
The result of the Doorn summit was a joint policy statement that expressed the need for close cross-border coordination of collective bargaining within the EMU. The Doorn declaration was the first time unions from different European countries had determined a set of joint bargaining guidelines. In order to prevent possible downward competition in wages and working conditions, the trade unions involved agreed ‘to achieve collective bargaining settlements that correspond to the sum total of the evolution of prices and the increase in labour productivity’; ‘to achieve both the strengthening of mass purchasing power and employment-creating measures (e.g. shorter work times)’; and to regularly ‘inform and consult each other on developments in bargaining policy’.
Since then, in between the annual summit conferences, a small transnational working group has organised regular and intensive exchanges of information on current developments in collective bargaining. This group established a close cooperation network and meets every two or three months. This information exchange forms the input to a database that enables agreements to be monitored against the bargaining coordination rule and to assess progress on qualitative issues.
At the third joint annual meeting on 10–11 September 1999 in the German city of Haltern, the Doorn group evaluated the 1999 collective bargaining rounds and declared that their transnational cooperation had already shown positive effects, with agreed wage increases from all countries involved fulfilling the formula in the Doorn declaration. In contrast, at the fourth meeting of 7–8 September 2000 in Luxembourg, the evaluation revealed that only Belgium had attained the level stipulated by the formula, whereas the other countries were either slightly (Luxembourg and the Netherlands) or significantly (Germany) below it.
There was a general consensus among all the unions involved that the Doorn group needed to intensify its transnational cooperation. They agreed to continue coordination, but to address the methodological difficulties in calculating the ‘value’ of non-wage provisions of collective agreements (e.g. training and working time reduction in Belgium, the introduction of new early retirement schemes in Germany and new provisions on reduction of stress at work and better reconciliation of work and private life in the Netherlands), which made comparing pay developments difficult. Differences in national interpretations of the Doorn formula itself led to the view that it should not be reduced to a static mathematical formula, but should instead serve as a general policy orientation on how to prevent mutual ‘wage dumping’.
At subsequent annual meetings, the unions have extended their agenda to develop common policies aimed at establishing common standards on non-pay matters, beginning in 2002 with lifelong learning. In 2006 the declaration of the Doorn group focused on the claim for a minimum wage, which is considered to be an effective instrument for combating a downward spiral of wages and guaranteeing a sufficient standard of living. At the same time, the group expressed the opinion that there is a need to curb excessive rises in the pay of top managers and that such increases should go hand in hand with the increases in employees’ salaries.
The Doorn group also stressed the necessity of considering trade unions as fully fledged players in the elaboration of a European strategy for developing outstanding innovation, in accordance with the recommendations of the initial Lisbon Strategy.
The Doorn group was an early pioneer in transnational trade union coordination of collective bargaining policy. Other forms of cross-border trade union cooperation, as well as coordination of collective bargaining at EU sectoral and intersectoral level, followed the group’s initiative. In particular, the Doorn initiative was influential in stimulating the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) towards building cross-border bargaining coordination across the wider European Union.