ETUC holds 10th statutory congress

The 10th statutory congress of the European Trade Union Confederation took place in May 2003. As well as electing a new leadership, the congress discussed a range of issues and adopted an action programme.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) held its10th statutory congress in Prague on 26-29 May 2003, under the slogan 'Make Europe work for the people'. ETUC currently has 78 member organisations (national trade union confederations and centres) from 34 countries in western, central and eastern Europe, as well as 11 sectoral European industry federations, making a total of 60 million affiliated members. The congress is the supreme authority of ETUC and meets every four years (the ninth congress was held in 1999 - EU9907182F). The congress is composed of delegates from the affiliated organisations in proportion to their membership. It elects the members of the executive committee, the president, the general secretary and the two deputy general secretaries.

Action programme

The 2003 congress adopted an action programme, divided into the following sections:

  • ETUC’s vision of Europe;
  • the European economic and social model;
  • expanding and reinforcing European industrial relations;
  • European and globalisation; and
  • strengthening ETUC and European trade union identity.

Vision of Europe

ETUC sets out a number of objectives, including the drawing up of a constitutional treaty for the enlarged EU, as currently under discussion in the European Convention (EU0305203N). In particular, it intends to campaign for the full integration into the constitutional treaty of the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union signed at the Nice European Council in December 2000 (EU0012288F).

In the area of EU enlargement, ETUC will seek to ensure that there is full implementation of the 'acquis communautaire' (ie the body of existing EU law) in the social field.

In terms of employment, ETUC aims to fight for full employment, based on gender equality, high-quality employment and a 'right to choose'. It also aims to introduce minimum social standards and rejects the 'growing precariousness of employment conditions'.

Gender equality and the right against racism and xenophobia also feature in this section, with ETUC maintaining a commitment to gender mainstreaming and women’s representation in decision-making bodies. It also aims to fight discrimination in all its forms and 'reflect and act on prejudices that may be inherent in trade unions’ own structures'.

The European economic and social model

The action programme's section on the 'European economic and social model' focuses on employment and in particular the commitments to more and better jobs set at the March 2000 Lisbon European Council summit (EU0004241F). ETUC makes a commitment to improve the participation and consultation of the social partners at all levels in the Member States’ national action plans for employment and social inclusion and to help raise awareness of the European employment strategy (EU0210206F). Specific commitments here include calls for a right to paid parental leave and the maintenance of pensions and social security rights during career breaks, and a commitment to campaign for a 35-hour working week and working time reduction measures by means of collective agreements.

This section also looks at social protection, giving a commitment to campaign to ensure the sustainability of social security systems, to broaden the financial base of social protection and develop additional and alternative financing, shifting the burden from labour to other factors of production. Statutory pension systems should be safeguarded as the major part of pension entitlements. Pensions should also guarantee a decent standard of living. ETUC is also calling for an EU legal framework for occupational pension funds.

Expanding and reinforcing European industrial relations

ETUC intends to strengthen and to campaign for full transnational trade union and workers’ rights, including strike rights, though in a way which fully respects national systems of collective bargaining and industrial action.

In the area of social dialogue, ETUC aims to press for full recognition of cross-sectoral and sectoral EU-level dialogue and to build 'a real European negotiating space for the social partners to defend workers’ interests'. In this context, it pledges to implement the central social partners’ multiannual work programme, agreed in November 2002 (EU0212206F).

ETUC will also seek to support its European industry federations in strengthening the sectoral social dialogue and put pressure on employers' organisations to become 'a genuine and strong European social partner in order to enable a genuine framework for negotiation'.

ETUC aims to set up, jointly with employers and with the support of the European Commission, a social partner secretariat which will have resources to carry out research, training and public relations.

In the area of mediation and conciliation of labour disputes at EU level, on which the Commission is expected to consult the social partners at some point in the future (EU0206203F), ETUC states that it will prepare the ground for a social partner agreement setting out the framework for autonomous negotiations at European level.

With regard to the forthcoming revision of the European Works Councils (EWCs) Directive (94/45/EC) (EU0212208F), ETUC states that it will call for revision of the Directive by the end of 2003. It will also campaign, along with its affiliates, for EWCs to be set up in those companies which are covered by the Directive but which do not yet have an EWC.

Europe and globalisation

A section of the programme focuses on Europe’s role within the wider global context. One part highlights the issue of trade negotiations, stating a commitment to campaign for trade agreements which ensure the social and economic development of development countries, the eradication of poverty and child labour and respect for fundamental workers’ and trade union rights and gender equality.

ETUC also intends to campaign for the respect of core labour and environmental standards, in cooperation with international trade union organisations and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It will also work with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) to make maximum use of the EU Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) for developing countries to promote workers’ and trade union rights in those countries which benefit from the GSP.

Strengthening ETUC and European trade union identity

A number of areas aimed at improving the identity of ETUC are addressed in the programme, including introducing a 'European membership pass' which guarantees union members temporarily working abroad access to trade union services.

Furthermore, ETUC wants to strengthen its ability to influence legislative processes at EU level and decision-making within the EU institutions. It also wants to 'overcome the employers’ reluctance to negotiate at both intersectoral and sectoral level' and hopes to achieve this by coordinating more closely with national affiliates and European industry federations.

Finally, ETUC aims to coordinate its efforts to encourage multinational companies in the EU candidate countries to organise and take part in sectoral collective bargaining.

Other issues

Among its other debates, the ETUC congress adopted:

  • an equality plan, aimed at eliminating the female representation gap in decision-making bodies, extending gender mainstreaming and strengthening the role of bodies responsible for gender equality policy;
  • a resolution on the work of the European Convention and the draft constitutional treaty (see above); and
  • a declaration on the draft Directive on working conditions for temporary (agency) workers (EU0204205F), expressing 'strong discontentment and incomprehension at the risk of a stalemate in the adoption of the proposed Directive ... and at the risk of its major distortion by a certain number of Member States' and calling for the immediate adoption of a common position on the Directive at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council held on 2-3 June 2003 (EU0306206F).

New leadership

Following the retirement of Emilio Gabaglio, the congress elected as ETUC's new general secretary John Monks of the UK Trades Union Congress (UK0205101N). Cándido Méndez Rodríguez of Spain's General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT) was elected as president. As well as the general secretary, elections were also held for the other members of the secretariat, the body that runs the day-to-day activities of ETUC, conducts relations with the European institutions and employers’ organisations, plans and recommends union action, and is responsible for the internal functioning of ETUC. The new team is:

  • Maria Helena André, deputy general secretary;
  • Reiner Hoffmann, deputy general secretary
  • Walter Cerfeda, confederal secretary;
  • Joël Decaillon, confederal secretary;
  • Josef Niemiec, confederal secretary; and
  • Catelene Passchier, confederal secretary.


The action programme adopted by the congress sets out ETUC’s medium-term priorities in terms of developing its influence on EU social and employment policy and collective bargaining. There are many areas and levels in which it already active, including the European social dialogue and influencing the formulation of EU legal instruments. The key areas identified above are unlikely to change in the near future as they represent medium- to long-term challenges. These include the development and implementation of the European employment strategy and all that goes with it, fundamental rights and labour standards and EU-level collective bargaining at cross-industry and sectoral level. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment