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Participants and challenges

Social dialogue in this sector began in 1996, and the Comité du dialogue social sectorielSectoral Social Dialogue Committee (SSDC) was formally constituted in 2004. It brings together the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) for the workers, and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) for the employers. Two concerns were uppermost at the outset: modernising public services, and the role of local development in combating unemployment. The issue of developing a European approach to promoting services of general interest came to the fore later on.

Social dialogue in this sector began in 1996, and the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee (SSDC) was formally constituted in 2004. Two concerns were uppermost in 1996: modernising public services, and the role of local development in combating unemployment. During the 1990s the EU Member States began to accept that promoting employment was a “matter of common concern”. In 1996 the Commission unveiled its European Pact of Confidence for Employment, which prefigured the subsequent European Employment Strategy (EES). This Pact placed special emphasis on local development.

It was in this context that the social partners in the sector adopted their first joint text, in which they pointed out that local and regional authorities “have considerable expertise to offer for local development and employment initiatives” (Joint Statement of the European Federation of Public Service Unions and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions – Local & Regional Government Employers Platform on Employment in the European Union, 29 November 1996). This marked the starting point for social dialogue, which gradually spread to other topics: modernising public services, services of general interest, equal opportunities, telework, European labour law, active inclusion, and so on.

Institutionalisation of the social dialogue through the setting up of an SSDC coincided, in 2004, with the European Commission’s White Paper on services of general interest (COM 2004(374) final). This document, setting out the Commission’s approach to promoting services of general interest, appears to have marked a turning-point in the sectoral social dialogue.

As concerns the nature of the texts adopted, the bulk of them are what the European Social Observatory calls “joint opinions”, in other words documents addressed to the European institutions in order to express the views of those in the sector about specific Community initiatives. These texts relate to the European Employment Strategy (EES), services of general interest, modernising labour law, active inclusion and development of social dialogue. Then there are “recommendations” addressed to national organisations: these are more akin to reciprocal commitments. They cover equal opportunities, gender equality and telework (implementation of the cross-industry framework agreement). Lastly there are two “declarations”, the first on modernising public services, and the second on developing social dialogue in local and regional authorities (especially in the new Member States).

Thus an analysis of the texts adopted reveals a social dialogue that initially focused on lobbying (to influence European policy-making by means of joint opinions), thereafter turning to reciprocal commitments in respect of industrial relations, quality of work, etc. The work programme for the period 2008–2010 provides for an investigation of the phenomenon of third-party violence (particularly in public transport, hospitals and schools). The intention is to join with other sectors (commerce, private security and hospitals) in supplementing the framework agreement concluded by the social partners in the cross-industry social dialogue (Framework agreement on harassment and violence at work, 26 April 2007). It is also worth noting that in February 2009, owing to the international economic and financial crisis, the sector forwarded to the Spring European Council a list of recommendations aimed at highlighting the role that local and regional authorities can play in helping the most vulnerable individuals affected by the crisis.

ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD