EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Single European Act


The Single European Act (SEA) was signed in Luxembourg and The Hague and came into force on 1 July 1987. It represents the first modification of the treaties of the European Communities – the Treaty of Paris in 1951 and the Treaties of Rome in 1957 – and signalled a new drive for European integration. Among other changes, it gave formal recognition to the European Council, created a Court of First Instance, and introduced a new legislative procedure, the ‘cooperation procedure’, into various areas of decision-making under the EC Treaty, with an enhanced consultative role for the European Parliament. The Parliament was also given a power of veto over the accession of new Member States and over the conclusion of agreements with associated states. The ‘comitology’ procedure, under which the Council delegates powers to the Commission on certain conditions, was formally included within Article 145 (now Article 202 EC) of the EC Treaty.


The main driving force behind the adoption of the Single European Act was to be found in a new Article 8A, which set out the single market objective of the ‘1992 Programme.’ The Commission’s proposal of the Single European Market Programme in 1985 implied the approval of a large number of directives aimed at eliminating the many obstacles identified. To achieve the approval of these directives, the Single European Act derogated from the requirement of unanimity laid down in the then Article 100 (now Article 94 EC) by adding to the EC Treaty a new Article 100A EC (now Article 95 EC) allowing for qualified majority voting.

However, at the insistence of the British government, fearful of being in a minority outvoted on new social policy initiatives to which it was opposed, there was inserted a second paragraph into the new Article 100A EC (now Article 95(2) EC): ‘Paragraph 1 shall not apply to fiscal provisions, to those relating to the free movement of persons nor to those relating to the rights and interests of employed persons’. This aimed to exclude a social dimension from the single European market programme.

As part of the compromise, which led to the exclusion of qualified majority voting from proposals ‘relating to the rights and interests of employed persons’, a new Article 118A (now Article 137(1) EC) was inserted by the Single European Act, which allowed for qualified majority voting for proposals ‘encouraging improvements, especially in the working environment, as regards the health and safety of workers’.

The significance of the Single European Act for EU policy on employment and industrial relations was soon evident. The Commission’s 1989 Social Action Programme highlighted the issue of working time. The legal basis of a proposal on working time could have looked to its effects on competition in the internal market and invoked Article 100A EC. This would have allowed for approval by qualified majority voting, but would raise the question whether the proposal was excluded from the qualified majority voting regime by virtue of paragraph 2 of Article 100A (now Article 95 EC).

In the event, the Commission argued that the diversity of regulatory practices in the Member States regarding flexibility of working time posed a potential threat to the well-being and health of workers. This was argued to allow for recourse to Article 118A (now Article 137(1) EC), and hence qualified majority voting in the Council. The UK’s challenge before the Court of Justice to the Commission’s choice of a legal basis for the Working Time Directive, subsequently adopted by the Council, was unsuccessful (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland v. Council of the European Union, Case C-84/94, [1996].

Article 95 EC as a legal basis for social policy initiatives has been overtaken by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, which greatly expanded EU competences in the fields of employment and industrial relations (Article 137 EC).

See also: Framework Directive on health and safety; Single European Market; social competences; working time.


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


Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Add new comment