EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Joint opinions

Joint opinions are formal expressions of the results of the social dialogue, which do not impose any obligations on the parties. They emerged as one response to complex problems requiring compromise between the parties concerned. On the initiative of Jacques Delors, the incoming President of the Commission, the European social partners met first at the castle of Val Duchesse outside Brussels on 31 January 1985; following their second meeting on 12 November 1985, they decided to set up two joint working parties. A macroeconomic working group adopted two ‘joint opinions’ on 6 November 1986 and 26 November 1987, and a Working Party on New Technologies adopted a joint opinion on training and motivation, and information and consultation on 6 March 1987. Further working parties were set up and further joint opinions were produced in the years that followed. Since 1985, sectoral social dialogue committees have been set up in 40 different industrial sectors and the European social partners have adopted over 70 cross-industry and 500 sectoral joint texts.

At the outset of the social dialogue in 1985, the European social partners were ambivalent about the formal outcomes of the process of social dialogue in which they were involved. They did not necessarily undertake a commitment to what Article 118B of the EC Treaty inserted by the Single European Act 1986 characterised as ‘relations based on agreement.’ Almost two decades later, the process of formulating ‘joint opinions’ was evaluated positively in the Commission’s Communication of 26 June 2002: The European social dialogue, a force for innovation and change (COM (2002) 341 final): ‘enabled [the social partners] to explore and discuss together the key themes of the European venture: setting in place a cooperation strategy on economic policy, completion of the internal market, application of the Social Charter of the Fundamental Rights of Workers [1989] and preparation of economic and monetary union’.

However, the Commission’s Communication of 2002 highlighted the perceived weakness of Joint Opinions:

The European social partners have adopted joint opinions, statements and declarations and recommendations on numerous occasions. More than 230 such joint sectoral texts have been issued and some 40 cross-industry texts… However, in most cases, these texts did not include any provision for implementation and monitoring: they were responses to short-term concerns. They are not well known and their dissemination at national level has been limited. Their effectiveness can thus be called into question.

The Commission was emphatic about the need to distinguish joint opinions from other outcomes of the European social dialogue – specifically, agreements. The Commission recommended that, ‘The social partners should endeavour to clarify the terms used to describe their contributions and reserve the term ‘agreement’ for texts implemented in accordance with the procedures laid down in Article 139(2) of the Treaty’ (now Article 155(2) TFEU.

See also: European sectoral social dialogue; open method of coordination; Val Duchesse.


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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