Social dialogue between employers and employees is a central element of Germany’s social market economy. The German economic system is marked by co-determination and collective agreements. At European level, social dialogue was institutionally anchored by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Especially in times of crisis, the pressure on the economy increases – and thus also on employers and employees. As a result, social dialogue is becoming ever more important. Minister of State Niels Annen commented on this as follows:
Working life has changed fundamentally in recent years and decades. New forms of work have emerged. The rule book for co-determination, on the other hand, was largely drawn up during the industrial era. The systems of participation in the world of work that we have in the European Union were to a large extent established 50 years ago. Therefore, they need to be revised and adapted in some areas.
The European mosaic of social dialogue
One of the goals of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU is to strengthen a social Europe. Germany therefore initiated a study by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which analyses the state of social dialogue in the individual EU member states, as well as in EU processes. Furthermore, the challenges of social dialogue are examined. The report shows that the differences within the EU remain considerable: forms of “social dialogue” exist in 18 of the 27 EU states. That means that there are no such structures in a third of member states. What is more, they are very weak in some countries.
The report points out that social dialogue at national and European level plays a key role in shaping economic, labour and social policy and helps to improve living and working conditions. The involvement of social partners has improved through time but is still less effective than it should be. Especially in the phase of economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis, it is essential that social partners play a substantial role.
What happens now?
The report provides a basis for devising further steps aimed at strengthening participative structures in Europe. For this, all relevant players from business, politics and civil society have to be involved. On 10 November, Minister of State Niels Annen is opening the debate at a virtual conference on “Social dialogue as an important pillar of economic sustainability and the resilience of economies in Europe”. His speech is available here.
Fostering social dialogue in global supply chains and multinational companies is another goal within the Federal Foreign Office’s commitment in the sphere of human rights.