EESC opinion: The Social Dimension of the Internal Market

EESC opinion: The Social Dimension of the Internal Market

Key points

The social dimension is a core component of the internal market. However, recent developments have raised questions about the social dimension's ability to protect workers. The internal market cannot function properly without a strong social dimension and the support of the citizens.

A number of developments give rise to concern. The European economy is facing its most serious challenge in decades. Financial bubbles have been allowed to grow and control mechanisms and traditional risk assessments have been sidestepped. As a result unemployment has risen and labour markets and the social situation will continue to deteriorate. Therefore employment must remain at the top of the EU's agenda. Europe needs sustainable growth and a high employment rate combined with a high quality labour market in order to finance welfare systems.

Over the last decade, welfare systems have been the target of reforms aimed at promoting more effective work incentives in social protection systems. One result has been a growth in inequality over the last two decades. Welfare systems are crucial to alleviating poverty and without social benefits the rise of inequality and the social impact of the crisis would be much more rapid and severe.

The ECJ rulings in four cases (Viking, Laval, Rüffert and Luxemburg) have led to fear of increasing risks of social dumping. The European Parliament, the academic world and employee representative organisations have expressed their concern about the decisions. Trade unions and employers' organisations come to different conclusions.

The EESC calls for:

  • In the short term the EESC calls for the posting of workers directive to be implemented more effectively. The EESC proposes that the idea of the creation of a "European Social Interpol" be explored, supporting the activities of the Labour Inspectorates of the various Member States. The EESC urges the Commission to assess the situation in the EU in light of the ECHR's recent judgements, and supports measures by the Commission that seek to strengthen social dialogue.
  • In the medium term the EESC supports a Commission initiative which clarifies the legal obligations for national authorities, business and workers when implementing the Posting of Workers Directive and which ensures that these rules are universally applicable. The EESC finds the proposal in the Monti report, where the right to strike is exempted from the internal market, interesting and believes that it might resolve some of the problems.
  • In the longer term the European Union should strive to strengthen the social dimension and realise the full potential of the internal market. The Lisbon Treaty and the annexed Charter of Fundamental Rights have not yet had their full impact on the balance between fundamental rights and economic rights. Strengthening the social dimension requires that the fundamental social rights be strengthened and that any limitation of fundamental rights which includes social rights be very restrictive. A Treaty change could be pursued to achieve this objective.