EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Social Action Programme


Social Action Programmes (SAPs) are launched periodically by the Commission to promote the EU’s social objectives. SAPs identify areas for EU initiatives, which may take the form of legislative proposals and, more often, non-legislative activities.


The Community’s first SAP of 1974 was in response to a mandate issued by the Heads of States meeting in Paris at the Summit of October 1972. The final communiqué declared that the Member States ‘attached as much importance to vigorous action in the social field as to the achievement of economic union... (and considered) it essential to ensure the increasing involvement of labour and management in the economic and social decisions of the Community’. Accordingly, the Commission was instructed to draw up a Social Action Programme. By a Resolution adopted on 21 January 1974, the Council of Ministers approved the Social Action Programme involving more than 30 measures over an initial period of three to four years. The three main objectives were: the attainment of full and better employment in the Community, the improvement of living and working conditions, and the increased involvement of management and labour in the economic and social decisions of the Community and of workers in companies.

Following adoption of the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers in Strasbourg in December 1989, the Commission again drew up an Action Programme aimed at implementing the Charter, containing 47 proposals for initiatives of various kinds, both binding and non-binding. Adoption of the SAP made slow progress, particularly as regards the binding legal acts. This was in part due to the absence in the EC Treaty of clear provisions for EU competence to adopt measures needed to guarantee the rights laid down in the Charter. Some progress was made when the Council adopted Directive 91/533 on the obligation on employers to inform employees of the conditions applicable to their employment relationship but, otherwise, the main success was the adoption of directives concerning health and safety of employees at work, an area where the Single European Act established EC competence. The relevant competences were only obtained by the amendments introduced by the Maastricht Treaty’s Protocol and Agreement on Social Policy. Thereafter, the obstacles to implementation of the fundamental social rights of workers promised by the Charter were primarily political.

The declaration of the Community Charter in 1989 led the European Commission to implement a Social Action Programme with legislative proposals based on the Charter. A Social Action Programme may be needed to implement social and labour rights guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union adopted at Nice in December 2000.

See also: Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers; worker; social competences; social objectives; Social Policy Agenda.


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