EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

Back to EUR-Lex homepage

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Document 52019DC0186

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS More efficient decision-making in social policy: Identification of areas for an enhanced move to qualified majority voting

COM/2019/186 final

Strasbourg, 16.4.2019

COM(2019) 186 final

ANNEXES

to the

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

More efficient decision-making in social policy:

Identification of areas for an enhanced move to qualified majority voting


Annex 1:    Historical overview

The EU Treaties bestow a social mission on the EU. This has been the case from the very beginning, though the development of specific EU legislation has been gradual: social policy in the broad sense began as a means of securing market integration and has developed into a way of delivering social outcomes as ends in themselves. In the 60 years of European integration, social policy has become increasingly central for the EU, as reflected in every Treaty revision.

Under the Treaty of Rome (1957), the bulk of social policy powers remained outside the scope of Community action, which was limited to promoting close cooperation between Member States with support from the European Social Fund. The Commission could issue opinions on health and safety in the workplace. The Treaty established the freedom of movement of workers and an obligation to adopt measures for the coordination of social security. In these fields, decisions were taken by unanimity in the Council, with no role for the Parliament.

Social policy developed with the Single European Act in 1986, through the creation of the possibility to adopt minimum requirements on the health and safety of workers, with the Council acting by qualified majority, in cooperation with the Parliament.

The areas for EU action in social policy were expanded in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty’s Social Protocol and have remained substantially the same ever since. The Social Protocol provided for qualified majority voting on:

-working conditions;

-information and consultation of workers;

-equal opportunities for men and women; and

-the integration of people excluded from the labour market.

It provided for the Council to vote by unanimity on issues regarding:

-social security and social protection of workers;

-dismissals;

-representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers, including co-determination; and

-conditions of employment of third-country nationals legally residing in the EU.

In the latter areas, the Parliament was to be consulted (this is now the special legislative procedure). It specifically excluded:

-pay;

-the right of association;

-the right to strike; and

-the right to impose lock-outs.

The Protocol was integrated into the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, rendering the provisions applicable to all Member States and forming the basis for the current Title X of the TFEU. This created a new legal base to combat discrimination, which remains unchanged today: Article 13 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (current Article 19(1) TFEU) provided that the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation.

The Treaty of Nice in 2001 inserted two new areas of cooperation in its Article 137 (now in points (j) and (k) in Article 153(1) TFEU), granting the Union power to support and complement the Member States’ activities in the fields of:

-combating social exclusion; and

-the modernisation of social protection systems.

It did not provide for the power to adopt directives setting minimum standards in these fields. 1 Also, the Treaty did not change any of the existing unanimity requirements in the social policy field, but introduced the specific passerelle clause (now in Article 153(2) TFEU).

The Lisbon Treaty (which entered into force on 1 December 2009) made it an aim of the Union to achieve a highly competitive social market economy. The adoption of measures on social security coordination in the context of the free movement of workers (Article 48 TFEU) became subject to qualified majority voting and the ordinary legislative procedure, rather than unanimity.

The requirements for unanimity and the consultation of the Parliament were retained in the following areas (now covered in Article 153(1)(c), (d), (f) and (g) and Article 19 TFEU):

-social security and social protection of workers (outside cross-border situations);

-dismissals;

-representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers, including co-determination;

-conditions of employment for third-country nationals legally residing in the EU; and

-measures to combat discrimination.

At the same time, the general passerelle clause was introduced in Article 48(7) TEU creating the possibility of moving from unanimity to qualified majority or from the special to the ordinary legislative procedure in areas not subject to the specific passerelle clause such as non-discrimination, and social security and social protection of workers.



Annex 2:    Legal acts proposed in the social field, 2014-2019

This Commission has made 27 legal proposals for modernising the EU’s social market economy and achieving a ‘social triple A’ for Europe. Agreement has been reached on 24 of these and the other three are under discussion.

No.

Short title

Publication

1

Regulation (EU) 2015/779 amending Regulation (EU) No 1304/2013 as regards an additional initial prefinancing amount paid to operational programmes supported by the Youth Employment Initiative

OJ L 126 , 21.5.2015, p. 1

2

Council Recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market

OJ C 67 , 20.2.2016, p. 1

3

Council Decision (EU) 2015/1848 on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States for 2015

OJ L 268 , 15.10.2015, p. 28

4

Council Decision (EU) 2016/1838 on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States for 2016

OJ L 280 , 18.10.2016, p. 30

5

Directive (EU) 2017/2398 amending Directive 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work

OJ L 345 , 27.12.2017, p. 87

6

Council Recommendation on the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning and repealing the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2008 on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning

OJ C 189 , 15.6.2017, p. 15

7

Council Recommendation on Upskilling Pathways: New Opportunities for Adults

OJ C 484 , 24.12.2016, p. 1

8

Directive (EU) 2017/159 implementing the Agreement concerning the implementation of the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 of the International Labour Organisation, concluded on 21 May 2012 between the General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives in the European Union (Cogeca), the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the Association of National Organisations of Fishing Enterprises in the European Union (Europêche)

OJ L 25 , 31.1.2017, p. 12

9

Directive (EU) 2018/957 amending Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services

OJ L 173 , 9.7.2018, p. 16

10

Regulation (EU) 2017/2305 amending Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 as regards the changes to the resources for economic, social and territorial cohesion and to the resources for the investment for growth and jobs goal and for the European territorial cooperation goal

OJ L 335 , 15.12.2017, p. 1

11

Directive (EU) 2018/131 implementing the Agreement concluded by the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) to amend Directive 2009/13/EC in accordance with the amendments of 2014 to the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 as approved by the International Labour Conference on 11 June 2014

OJ L 22 , 26.1.2018, p. 28

12

Council Recommendation on a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships

OJ C 153 , 2.5.2018, p. 1

13

Decision (EU) 2018/646 on a common framework for the provision of better services for skills and qualifications (Europass) and repealing Decision No 2241/2004/EC

OJ L 112 , 2.5.2018, p. 42

14

Council Decision (EU) 2018/1215 on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States

OJ L 224 , 5.9.2018, p. 4

15

Regulation (EU) 2019/128 establishing a European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 337/75

OJ L 30 , 31.1.2019, p. 90

16

Regulation (EU) 2019/127 establishing the European Foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions (Eurofound), and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 1365/75

OJ L 30 , 31.1.2019, p. 74

17

Regulation (EU) 2019/126 establishing the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 2062/94

OJ L 30 , 31.1.2019, p. 58

18

Directive (EU) 2019/130 amending Directive 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work (Batch II)

OJ L 30 , 31.1.2019, p. 112

19

Proposal for a Directive on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States as regards the accessibility requirements for products and services

COM (2015) 615  

20

Proposal for a Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems and regulation (EC) No 987/2009 laying down the procedure for implementing Regulation (EC) No 883/2004

COM (2016) 815

21

Proposal for a Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers and repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU

COM (2017) 253

22

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on transparent and predictable working conditions in the European Union

COM(2017) 797

23

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Labour Authority

COM (2018) 131

24

Proposal for a Recommendation on access to social protection for workers and the self-employed

COM (2018) 132

25

Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work (Batch III)

COM (2018) 171

26

Proposal for a Regulation on the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF)

COM (2018) 380

27

Proposal for a Regulation on the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+)

COM (2018) 382

(1)      The field of social security and social protection of workers (Article 153(1)(c) TFEU) overlaps with the field of the modernisation of social protection systems (Article 153(1)(k) TFEU). In such cases, point (k) provides for a priority rule that it is without prejudice to point (c).
Top

Strasbourg, 16.4.2019

COM(2019) 186 final

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

More efficient decision-making in social policy:





Identification of areas for an enhanced move to qualified majority voting

























1.Introduction

The social dimension of the European Union is enshrined in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). It highlights the Union’s objective to, inter alia, promote the well-being of its peoples, work for sustainable development and a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, combat social exclusion and discrimination and promote equality between women and men.

In this context, the Union’s role is to support and complement the Member States’ social policies and ensure a level playing‑field, upward convergence in employment and social performance, and a well-functioning single market and Economic and Monetary Union. EU‑level legislation, policy coordination and funding have brought tangible progress over the past 60 years (see Annex 1).

In the context of changing labour markets and societies, and new opportunities and challenges arising from globalisation, digitalisation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, changing working patterns, migration and ageing populations, social issues are among EU citizens’ primary concerns. In response, the European Commission put forward a comprehensive agenda of initiatives to renew and modernise the EU social acquis. 1  
EU leaders also pledged in March 2017 to continue working towards a social Europe.
2

The proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights in November 2017 was a major breakthrough. Proposed by the Commission and proclaimed together with the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, the European Pillar of Social Rights 3 provides a renewed compass for addressing current and future challenges. Several initiatives have already been taken at EU level to follow up on the Pillar and modernise the rights of citizens in a fast‑changing world, 4 contributing also to the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In times of rapid, sometimes disruptive change, it is more important than ever that the EU, alongside the Member States, is able to formulate effective policy responses swiftly. This involves efficient decision-making whereby the EU can deliver in terms of supporting and complementing national policies; tackling emerging challenges timely; making the most of the opportunities brought about by such changes; defending the Union’s collective interests; and protecting EU citizens.

As announced by President Juncker in his State of the Union address of September 2018,
it is opportune to take stock of the framework for EU decision
‑making set out in the Treaties for different key policy areas in order to make sure that the EU can use all the tools at its disposal and maximise their added value.

This Communication is thus part of this Commission’s broader commitment to examine ways to make decision-making more efficient by identifying areas for an enhanced use of qualified majority voting 5 and follows on from earlier Communications on Common Foreign and Security Policy, 6 taxation, 7 and energy and climate. 8  

It is important to note that, for almost three decades, the vast majority of decisions in the field of social policy have been taken according to the ordinary legislative procedure, whereby the Council (deciding by qualified majority) and the European Parliament act as co‑legislators on an equal footing (see section below). The formulation of EU policy in social affairs is thus very different from the other areas, notably taxation and common foreign and security policy, where unanimity is still the norm.

A further specificity is that the Commission must consult social partners before submitting proposals in the social policy field. 9  Moreover, social partners can negotiate agreements that can be implemented either autonomously according to national practices, or be implemented at their request at EU level through a Council decision. 10  

2.The current EU framework for decision-making in social policy

The social policy acquis comprises 125 legal acts covering areas ranging from equality between women and men, labour mobility, the rights of posted workers, the protection of workers’ health and safety, working conditions, and information and consultation of workers. Under the Juncker Commission, 27 proposals for legal acts on social policy have been tabled and agreement has been reached on 24 so far (see Annex 2).

Much of the social policy acquis has been adopted under qualified majority voting and the ordinary legislative procedure. Moreover, social partner agreements implemented at EU level have played a significant role in developing the EU social acquis. Legislation has been adopted by unanimity in certain areas, e.g. the first legal acts related to the coordination of social security systems 11 , and fighting discrimination based on gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

However, a limited number of areas of social policy are still subject to voting by unanimity in the Council and the special legislative procedure, in which the European Parliament does not have a role as a co-legislator. These are:

·non-discrimination (Article 19(1) TFEU);

·social security and social protection of workers (outside cross-border situations) (Article 153(1)(c) TFEU);

·the protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated (Article 153(1)(d) TFEU);

·the representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers (Article 153(1)(f) TFEU); and

·conditions of employment for third-country nationals legally residing in the EU (Article 153(1)(g) TFEU).


Apart from the fact that certain aspects of these policy areas may have an impact on the financial balance of national welfare systems, there is no particular logic as to why, after successive Treaty revisions, these few domains are still subject to voting by unanimity and the special legislative procedure, in particular when compared with areas that already fall under qualified majority voting.



Graph 1: Social policy acquis – unanimity and qualified majority voting, illustrated by examples of existing legal acts