Bechter, Barbara; Bozdemir, Gizem; Galetto, Manuela; Larsson, Bengt; Prosser, Thomas; Weber, Sabrina (2018) Social Partner Engagement and Effectiveness in European Dialogue – SPEEED. Project Report, Durham University, Durham; pp. 1-138.

Report available for download [here].

Executive summary - Project funded by the European Commission - VS/2016/0092.

“Social Partner Engagement and Effectiveness in European Dialogue (SPEEED)”


Short description of action

In recent years, European social dialogue has increased in importance on the agenda of European public authorities; the goal of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to be ‘President of social dialogue’ is well-known. In this context, the importance of European sectoral social dialogue committees (SSDCs) has increased. The current study therefore examines the effectiveness of social dialogue in the 43 sectors in which SSDCs exist.

For analytical purposes, 39 SSDCs were selected for which both Eurostat NACE 2 ref data and Eurofound representativeness study data for trade unions and employer organizations in member states were available. The sectors not included are central government, regional and local government, extractive industry and professional football. In the qualitative research, two sectors (metal and hospitals) in five countries (DE, IT, PL, SE, UK) were investigated in depth.

A range of activities were undertaken in the course of the project. Following a series of initial meetings between project researchers, large-scale quantitative and qualitative research was carried out. Results were discussed at a dissemination workshop in Brussels in March 2018. In terms of deliverables, multi-lingual newsletters were produced throughout the duration of the project. This report, aimed at policymakers and researchers, will also help advance knowledge of the manner in which SSDCs function. Finally, researchers working on the project will prepare multiple articles for publication in academic journals.

Main objectives of action

The project has four objectives: (1) to map and analyse the settings of ESSD, (2) develop a measurement framework to identify relevant indicators that foster or hamper effective social dialogue (3) to identify barriers to effective engagement in SSDCs, and (4) to analyse the engagement procedures of social partners. These objectives have generally been neglected by extant literature; investigation will therefore advance the knowledge of policymakers and researchers.

Quantitative research was based on secondary data including 39 representativeness studies by Eurofound, the social dialogue texts database and Eurostat data. The measurement dimensions were the economic context of sectors and the institutional structure of social partner organisations in 39 SSDCs and the EU-28, and the characteristic of actors involved in social dialogue at the national and European sectoral level. This analysis focused on differential SSDC outcomes from 2008 - 2015, evaluating the relationship with a range of economic and industrial relations variables. Qualitative research was also undertaken in two sectors (hospitals and metal) and five countries (DE, IT, PL, SE, UK). A total of 40 semi-structured research interviews were carried out at member state and European level which attempted to establish the factors which account for effective social dialogue in SSDCs.

Key results

Our results support the assumption that SSDCs represented by homogenous establishment size structures are more successful in concluding outcomes that entail any commitment from social partners at national level. Thus the more similar the challenges faced in a sector across the member states, the more likely cooperation and coordination of policies in SSDCs.

According to our research, the existence of sectoral bargaining structures in the member states fosters SSDC outcomes that entail follow-up commitments. With regard to the effectiveness of social dialogue, the presence of such structures in the member states are a prerequisite for the social partners to fulfil SSDC obligations, e.g. effective implementation of SSDC outcomes.

Our research shows a negative relationship between collective bargaining coverage and SSDC outcomes that entail any follow-up at national level. The question is if, because of the rather low governance capacity of collective agreements in the member states, social partners pursue the interests of their members at European level in SSDCs so as to compensate for this weakness.

With regard to the effectiveness of ESSD, our research indicates that SSDCs have multiple purposes. ESSD serves different purposes for different SSDCs and perceived effectiveness of social dialogue may vary depending on the sector in question. The relevance of the different types of topics tackled at EU level also varies between SSDCs; in some sectors social and workplace related topics (e.g. Art.153 TFEU) predominate whilst in others industrial policy issues (e.g. EU2020) are important.

From the qualitative cases studies we may conclude that the choice of topics on which to have dialogue, and the process through which topics are developed and chosen, is of high importance for both engagement and effectiveness of the dialogue. The intention to engage in SSDCs depends on the relevance or importance of topics to the national affiliates. In addition, economic internationalisation and competition influence the function of SSDCs and the interest of trade unions and employers in different ESSD topics. For example, there is greater interest in industrial policy topics in the metal sector than in the hospital sector.

With regards to resources, analysis shows the importance of facilitation from the secretariats of the European social partner organisations as well as from the European Commission. Since two of the major obstacles to engagement from national actors are organisational resources (financial and human) and language competencies, translation services and financial support from the commission are of great importance. Access to information on ongoing and upcoming Commission initiatives, expertise provided by DGs, logistical and financial support to organise a sufficient number of SSDC meetings, as well as political support and access to EU institutions are important incentives to engage in SSDCs.

When focusing on actors, we find that for effective participation in SSDCs sectoral knowledge and familiarity with social dialogue processes and practices are important. The relevant knowledge, expertise and relationships with other participating actors are of central importance; this is the case with affiliates from other member states, the secretariats and the European Commission. Continuity in participation is not only important to gain relevant knowledge about dialogue processes and practices, but also to establish personal relationships which help build trust among actors and promote cooperation.

The understanding of what constitutes effective social dialogue is quite varied and broad among the national representatives participating in SSDCs. There is also an understanding that the SSDC does not always have to lead to formal outputs; dialogue is rather seen as fruitful in itself.

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