ECJ rejects UEAPME's case against the parental leave Directive

In June 1998, the European Court of Justice rejected a case brought by UEAPME, the European organisation which seeks to represent SMEs. UEAPME had claimed that the EU Directive on parental leave should be annulled or ruled inapplicable to its members, as it had been excluded from the negotiating process for the agreement on which the Directive was based.

On 17 June 1998, the European Court of Justice handed down its judgment in case T-135/96, UEAPME vs Council of the European Union. The case arguably attracted relatively little wider attention, but was of great significance for the legal standing of Directives conceived under the Maastricht social policy Agreement and Protocol, whereby agreements reached by the EU-level social partners are implemented by a Council of Ministers Directive. The European Association of Craft and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) had brought the case, seeking principally the annulment of the June 1996 EU Directive on parental leave (96/34/EC), or secondarily the annulment of the Directive's applicability to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME s).

The Directive put into effect the agreement on parental leave concluded in December 1995 by the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE), the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) (TN9801201S). UEAPME's case against the Directive was based on the argument that its members had not been involved in the negotiation process over the agreement. UEAPME has long claimed to be the legitimate representative of SMEs, which, it argues, are insufficiently represented by UNICE.

The ECJ dismissed the case as inadmissable, finding that UEAPME did not meet the legal requirements for being "concerned" by the Directive, and could thus not bring a case relating to it. At the same time, the Court affirmed the legitimacy of the process of decision-making and arriving at European legislation laid down by the social policy Protocol and Agreement. Nevertheless, it did not rule out future challenges against EU Directives based on framework agreements between the social partners by organisations which can successfully prove to be insufficiently represented by the organisations sitting around the negotiating table.

In its second Communication on the future of the social dialogue, published in May 1998 (EU9806110F), the European Commission refrains from interfering in the autonomy of the social partners in deciding who should be involved in negotiations under the Maastricht procedure. All social partners organisations listed in the Annex to the Commission's Communication (and its 1993 predecessor) are, however, consulted on any Commission proposals in the social field. UEAPME was thus consulted on the Commission's intentions to legislate in the area of parental leave, as well as on the Directive to implement the framework agreement reached between ETUC, CEEP and UNICE.

The Commission is currently carrying out a study on the representativeness of the social partner organisations. The list of organisations listed in the Annex to its Communication is expected to be adjusted periodically to take account of the findings of this study as well as of other developments in the formation of social partner organisations.

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