EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life


Flexicurity is such a new concept in the academic and policy arena that no universally accepted definition exists. The European Commission (EC), in its 2007 communication Towards Common Principles of Flexicurity (1016Kb PDF), said flexicurity could be defined as an integrated strategy to enhance, at the same time, flexibility and security in the labour market.

In 2004 Ton Wilthagen and Frank Tros published their seminal work on the idea, The concept of ‘flexicurity’: A new approach to regulating employment and labour markets, in Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research. In the article they defined flexicurity as:

...(1) a degree of job, employment, income and ‘combination’ security that facilitates the labour market careers and biographies of workers with a relatively weak position and allows for enduring and high quality labour market participation and social inclusion, while at the same time providing (2) a degree of numerical (both external and internal), functional and wage flexibility that allows for labour markets’ (and individual companies’) timely and adequate adjustment to changing conditions in order to enhance competitiveness and productivity.

The flexicurity model, first implemented in Denmark in the 1990s, is a combination of easy hiring and firing providing flexibility for employers, and high benefits for the unemployed providing security for the employees. This must be combined with training to increase job mobility. Perceived as a new way of viewing flexibility, flexicurity aims to provide employees and companies with the ability to better adapt to insecurities associated with global markets.

The European Commission (EC) has been promoting the concept of flexicurity for a number of years. In its 1997 Green Paper, Partnership for a new organization of work (2.8Mb PDF), it stressed the importance of both flexibility and security for competitiveness and the modernisation of work organisation. The idea also featured prominently in the ‘adaptability pillar’ of the EU employment guidelines, where social partners were invited to:

...negotiate at all appropriate levels agreements to modernise the organisation of work, including flexible working arrangements, with the aim of making undertakings productive and competitive and achieving the required balance between flexibility and security.

The need for security of employment to balance flexibility in the labour market is also reflected in European social dialogue. For example, the Framework Agreement on part-time work, concluded 6 June 1997, and the Framework Agreement on fixed-term work, concluded on 18 March 1999, both refer to ‘flexibility in/of working time and security for workers’.

Employment security is a particular concern in relation to fixed-term work. In the Commission’s Explanatory Memorandum to the proposed draft directive implementing the Agreement, the Commission emphasised that:

…the social partners’ contribution is positive in itself in that it guarantees that consideration is given both to business competitiveness and to the interests of workers.

In recent years there have been different interpretations of the term flexicurity. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) in particular rejected the claim that job security needed to be replaced by employment security. However, recent developments suggest that social partners, along with the Commission, were moving towards an interpretation which was acceptable to all parties.

The key breakthrough came towards the end of 2007, when the European Parliament endorsed a resolution called the Common Principles of Flexicurity on 29 November. The Parliament’s position was a response to the Commission’s 2007 communication, Towards Common Principles of Flexicurity. In December 2007, the Council adopted eight common principles of flexicurity:

  1. Flexicurity is designed to implement the main principles of the Lisbon Strategy;
  2. Flexicurity, in addition to being committed to life-long learning, active labour market policies and a modern social welfare system, sees the need for flexible contractual arrangements;
  3. Flexicurity needs to adapt to the different circumstances in each Member State;
  4. Flexicurity needs to support open and inclusive labour markets which help to reintroduce inactive employees back into employment;
  5. Flexicurity needs to involve the smooth transition between jobs by constantly up-grading employees’ skills and providing the necessary social protection in transition periods;
  6. Flexicurity should promote both gender equality as well as considering means to reconcile work-life balance issues;
  7. Flexicurity needs the support of the social partners;
  8. Flexicurity needs to involve a cost-effective distribution of resources which public budgets can sustain.

In February 2008, the Commission underlined its commitment to flexicurity by announcing the setting up of a Mission for Flexicurity. Consisting of members representing the Commission, ETUC, BusinessEurope and the European Council presidency, the Mission visited five Member States. The group held in-depth discussions on the state of play on the development and implementation of the national pathways based on the common flexicurity principles. The Mission’s final report (198Kb PDF) was published in December 2008.

Since then, the Commission has stressed that flexicurity is a ‘crucial element’ of the Employment Guidelines and the European Employment Strategy as a whole. It also notes that integrated flexicurity policies play a key role in modernising labour markets and contributing to the achievement of the 75% employment rate target set by the Europe 2020 Strategy.

Eurofound’s recent work reflects the on-going importance of flexicurity in the social policy debate.

A 2012 Eurofound report, Flexicurity: Actions at company level (373Kb PDF), examined actions at company level that could be classified as flexicurity measures, supporting young workers, older workers and women.

Another recent Eurofound project, The second phase of flexicurity: an analysis of practices and policies in the Member States (101Mb PDF), examined a large number of public and social partner based instruments that combined an element of flexibility and security. Its findings showed that flexicurity was being implemented across Europe, partly in response to the economic crisis, and it provided some suggestions for future pathways for flexicurity.

See also: Adaptability; Fixed-term work; Fragmentation of the labour force; Pacts for employment and competitiveness; Part-time work; Quality of work; Temporary agency work; Work-life balance.

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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