EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Social Policy Protocol

The Social Policy Protocol was the legal mechanism adopted to resolve the impasse reached over the social policy provisions of the Treaty of Maastricht at the summit in December 1991. Eleven of the EU Member States agreed on the provisions of a new Social Chapter of the EC Treaty, reflecting the Agreement on Social Policy reached by the European social partners on 31 October 1991; the United Kingdom was opposed. Unanimity was required for the Maastricht Treaty to be adopted.

The outcome of Maastricht was the Treaty on European Union signed by the Member States of the European Community on 7 February 1992, a Protocol on Social Policy and an Agreement, annexed to the Protocol, between 11 Member States, with the exception of the UK (which benefited from an opt-out), also on Social Policy. The Protocol notes that 11 Member States ‘wish to continue along the path laid down in the 1989 Social Charter [and] have adopted among themselves an Agreement to this end’; accordingly, all 12 Member States:

1. Agree to authorise those 11 Member States [excluding the UK] to have recourse to the institutions, procedures and mechanisms of the Treaty for the purposes of taking among themselves and applying as far as they are concerned the acts and decisions required for giving effect to the above-mentioned Agreement.

2. The [UK] shall not take part in the deliberations and the adoption by the Council of Commission proposals made on the basis of this Protocol and the above-mentioned Agreement...

3. Acts adopted by the Council... shall not be applicable to the [UK].’

This division in the Community over social policy might have been resolved by the expected victory of the Labour Party in the British general election of April 1992, which would have led to the UK becoming party to the Agreement. Its provisions would then have substituted for the provisions in the Treaty. As this did not happen, there continued in existence two parallel sets of provisions: one applicable to all the Member States (in the Treaty), and one applicable to all but the UK (in the Agreement).

The election of a Labour government in the UK in May 1997 led the UK to opt-in, and the Treaty of Amsterdam, agreed on 7 June 1997, provided for the provisions of the Agreement on Social Policy to be incorporated into the EC Treaty, terminating the Social Policy Protocol.

See also: European social dialogue; opt-out; social competences; Treaty of Amsterdam; Treaty of Maastricht.

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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