EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life



The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is recognised by the European Union, the Council of Europe and the European Free Trade Association as the only representative cross-sectoral trade union organisation at European level.

Background and status

ETUC, established in 1973, currently includes in its membership 92 national trade union confederations from 39 European countries, as well as 10 European trade union federations. It has a total of 45 million members. It also has observer organisations in Montenegro and Bosnia. Other trade union structures operate under the auspices of ETUC: Eurocadres (the Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff) and FERPA (the European Federation of Retired and Elderly Persons). In addition, ETUC coordinates the activities of the 45 Interregional Trade Union Councils, which organise cross-border trade union cooperation.

In practice, ETUC seeks to influence the EU’s legislation and policies by making direct representations to the EU institutions and engaging in extensive consultation with European authorities. ETUC also seeks to establish industrial relations with employers at EU level through European social dialogue, including sectoral social dialogue. To support its demands, ETUC can call upon its affiliates to take action.


Congress and action programme

ETUC determines its policies through the deliberations of its Congress and its Executive Committee. The Congress meets once every four years and elects the President, the General Secretary, two Deputy General Secretaries and up to four Confederal Secretaries. The President’s role is to chair ETUC’s governing bodies. The General Secretary is the head and spokesperson of the confederation.

The ETUC Congress met most recently in Vienna in May 2019, where it adopted an action programme for 2019–2023, with six priorities for a ‘renewed social contract for Europe’. The action programme and the manifesto for the same period list a large number of issues to be addressed, such as gender equality, climate change, digitalisation, measures to realise the European Pillar of Social Rights, the need for higher wages and investment, the elimination of social dumping, and the safeguarding and reform of collective bargaining mechanisms.

The Congress ratified a change in the statutes. Until the Vienna Congress, the ETUC Congress elected an ETUC President, whose role was essentially to chair the Congress sessions and the meetings of the Executive Committee, as well as those of the Steering Committee, a smaller body elected by the Executive Committee. In turn, the Executive Committee elected several Vice-Presidents. Following the change adopted by the Vienna Congress, the Congress elects a Presidium, consisting of a President (this role may be rotated at mid-term) and four Vice-Presidents. The Vienna Congress elected Laurent Berger, General Secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour, as President.

Executive and Steering Committees

The Executive Committee is made up of representatives of ETUC’s member organisations, in proportion to their memberships. It meets four times a year and can adopt joint positions and agree on action in support of its demands. The Executive Committee also has the power to decide on the mandate and composition of the delegations that negotiate with the European employer organisations. ETUC’s negotiating mandate is prepared in consultation with the national trade union confederations and the European trade union federations. A mandate for negotiations with European employer organisations and the adoption of a draft agreement must have the support of at least two-thirds of the organisations directly concerned. The Steering Committee decides on measures to implement the policies adopted by the Executive Committee. It meets eight times a year.

The leadership team elected by the Congress, called the Secretariat, manages ETUC’s day-to-day activities. It is responsible for relations with the European institutions and employer organisations. It suggests and plans European trade union actions and manages ETUC staff and their activities.


To support its work in the areas of social research, trade union training, and health and safety in the workplace, ETUC set up an independent research and training centre, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), run by its own administrative bodies and benefiting from the EU’s financial support.

Related dictionary terms

European trade union federation EU system of industrial relations freedom of association national trade union confederations representativeness


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
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