EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Social objectives

The social objectives of the EU are set out in the TEU in broad formulations. In Title I of the TEU, Article 3(3) states:

The Union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.

It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child.

Article 4(2) TFEU outlines the ‘shared competences’ between the Union and the Member States in the social field: ‘Shared competence between the Union and the Member States applies in the following principal areas:

(a) (…);

(b) social policy, for the aspects defined in this Treaty;

(c) (…).’

Article 8 TFEU adds the dimension of equality: ‘In all its activities, the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women.’ More specifically, Article 151 of the TFEU’s ‘Social Chapter’ stipulates:

The Union and the Member States, having in mind fundamental social rights such as those set out in the European Social Charter signed at Turin on 18 October 1961 and in the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, shall have as their objectives the promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions, so as to make possible their harmonisation while the improvement is being maintained, proper social protection, dialogue between management and labour, the development of human resources with a view to lasting high employment and the combating of exclusion.

As regards employment objectives specifically, Title IX, ‘Employment’, begins with Article 145 TFEU:

Member States and the Union shall, in accordance with this Title, work towards developing a coordinated strategy for employment and particularly for promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to economic change with a view to achieving the objectives defined in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union.

More specific social objectives are found in the pronouncements of the EU institutions. The Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion is responsible for implementation of the social objectives, through its Social Action Programme.

The European Court of Justice has referred to the social objectives of the EU when deciding cases. For example, when rejecting a challenge that collective agreements contravened the EU’s competition laws, the Court of Justice referred to Article 3(1)EC: the Community’s ‘policy in the social sphere’ and Article 2 EC; ‘a high level of employment and of social protection’. The Court concluded that collective agreements reached ‘in pursuit of such objectives’ were not subject to the Community’s competition laws (Albany International BV v. Stichting Bedrijfspensioenfonds Textielindustrie, Case C-67/96; with Joined cases C-115/97, C-116/97 and C-117/97).

See also: co-decision procedure; competences of the European Union; council voting procedure; Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; qualified majority voting; Social Action Programme; social policy agenda.

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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