Open method of coordination
The ‘open method of coordination’ (OMC) is a form of EU soft law, a process of policymaking which does not lead to binding EU legislative measures nor require Member States to change their law. The open method of coordination (OMC) aims to spread best practices and achieve greater convergence towards the main EU goals. Historically, the OMC can be seen as a reaction to the EU’s economic integration in the 1990s. This process reduced the Member States’ options in the field of employment policy. However, they were also reluctant to delegate more powers to the European institutions and thus designed the OMC as an alternative to the existing EU modes of governance.
Generally, the OMC works in stages. First, the Council of Ministers agrees on policy goals. Member States then translate guidelines into national and regional policies. Thirdly, specific benchmarks and indicators to measure best practice are agreed upon. Finally, results are monitored and evaluated. Because it is a decentralised approach, largely implemented by the Member States and supervised by the Council of the European Union, the European Commission has primarily a monitoring role and the involvement of the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice is very weak indeed. Although the OMC was devised as a tool in policy areas which remain a priority for national governments, it is sometimes seen as a way for the Commission to ‘put its foot in the door’ of a national policy area.
The employment title of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, originally introduced by the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, is perceived as the original model of the open method of coordination, encapsulated in Article 148 TFEU. Employment policy is the paradigm case of the OMC: an annual report leads to guidelines, which the Member States ‘shall take into account in their employment policies’, followed by an annual report on national employment policy, reviewed in a report by the Council and Commission upon which the European Council may make (non-binding) recommendations to Member States.
However, the OMC is not restricted to the sphere of employment. It is being applied to other policy areas, such as research and development, social protection, enterprise policy and immigration. The Commission’s Social Policy Agenda envisages the OMC being applied to all areas of social policy; a specific example is the Community Action Programme to combat discrimination, adopted in November 2000 (Decision 2000/750/EC) for the period 2001-2005.
The European social dialogue is not institutionally integrated into the open method of coordination (OMC) on employment as enshrined in the TFEU (Articles 148 to 150) and implementing the European Employment Strategy (EES). The social partners are consulted on both the drafting of employment guidelines and on their annual assessment by the European Employment Committee, which is a committee composed of Member State representatives assisting the Commission and the Council in the OMC procedure. They are also involved through the Tripartite Social Summit which prepares the Spring European Council. In addition, Article 146 TFEU also states that in coordinating their national employment policies, Member States should have ‘regard to national practices related to the responsibilities of management and labour’.
An institutional design could integrate the best features of the European social dialogue and the OMC – for example, a social dialogue process, which replicates the processes and measures of the OMC in the form of framework agreements at EU level, implemented at Member State level through the social partners ‘in accordance with the practices and procedures specific to management and labour and the Member States’ (Article 155(2) TFEU). An EU-level social dialogue between EU social partners could produce guidelines in the form of framework agreements; affiliated social partners at Member State level could implement the guidelines, perhaps through intersectoral or sectoral collective agreements; these could be reviewed by EU institutions, which could supplement this action by the social partners, with recommendations in the form of EU legislative proposals where implementation was inadequate.
In its Communication of 26 June 2002, the Commission recommended adopting the OMC for the implementation of texts resulting from social dialogue. Ultimately, if joint opinions and other non-regulatory instruments continue to be ineffective, their failure may imply other, more rigorous steps towards effectiveness, including regulatory agreements and/or legislation.
See also: European Employment Strategy; European social dialogue; European social model; European social partners; joint opinions; Lisbon Strategy; Luxembourg process; peer review; Social Policy Agenda.