Since the start of the crisis, the European Union has demonstrated its growing power over countries that use the single currency. But even outside the Eurozone, EU Member States face the same challenges and are becoming increasingly interdependent. Climate change, energy supply, worker mobility and migration are among the issues that cannot be tackled by individual nations. There is a pressing need for collective European action, and that has also transformed the way trade unions work. EU-level coordination is vital for effective trade union participation in policy-making. The ETUC takes action in a number of ways: through political pressure and negotiations with EU institutions, social dialogue, and large-scale demonstrations.

Influencing European decision-making

The ETUC works with the European institutions to push EU legislation and policies in the right direction.

European Council: since 2001, the ETUC has taken part in the Tripartite Social Summit. This brings together the European social partners, heads of state and government from the current and two incoming EU Presidencies, and the Commission. It is an opportunity for trade unions to make their voice heard at the highest level of EU decision-making. The ETUC also holds regular meetings with Council members.

European Commission: the EU Treaty obliges the Commission to consult the European social partners on all proposals regarding employment and social policy.

European Parliament: the ETUC liaises with MEPs across the political spectrum, specifically through the cross-party Trade Union Intergroup. The Parliament's powers are increasing, so it is crucial for the ETUC to put forward the trade unions' point of view, so as to influence the European legislative process.

The ETUC also coordinates trade union involvement in a number of consultative bodies, such as the European Economic and Social Committee.

European Court of Justice: the ETUC pays increasing attention to the judgments handed down by this EU body, particularly when they relate to workers' mobility and respect for workers' fundamental rights.


Representing workers through European social dialogue

European social dialogue brings together representatives from the trade unions and the employers' organisations (the European social partners) and involves discussions, negotiations and joint actions. Social dialogue is enshrined in the Treaty and is a fundamental part of the European social model.

Social partner dialogue takes place at both sectoral and cross-sectoral level. The participants in cross-sectoral dialogue – the ETUC, BusinessEurope (private-sector employers), UEAPME (small and medium-sized enterprises) and CEEP (public-sector employers) – have signed a number of Framework Agreements over the years on:

  • Parental leave (1996), revised in 2009
  • Part-time work (1997)
  • Fixed-term work (1999)

These agreements were ratified by the Council of Ministers and are now part of EU legislation. The social partners went on to conclude new-generation, 'autonomous' agreements, which they themselves are responsible for implementing at national, sectoral and company level:

  • Telework (2002)
  • Work-related stress (2004)
  • Harassment and violence at work (2007)
  • Inclusive labour markets (2010)
  • Active ageing and inter-generational approach (2017)

They have also adopted Frameworks of Action, such as those on lifelong learning (2002), gender equality (2005), and youth employment (2013).