Among the strongest critics of the SPE proposal have been the ETUC and its member trade unions, who for good reason fear that this legal form could be used by companies to avoid national rules on worker involvement. One key issue is whether SPEs would be allowed to register in a different country (“host country”) than the country in which their head office is located (“home country”).

If a separation of host and home country is allowed, the laws of the host country could have precedence over the laws of the home country in important areas such as worker participation. Thus the SPE could offer a vehicle for companies in countries with strong worker participation to “escape” by registering as an SPE in a country with weak or no worker participation requirements. Although some attempt has been made in revised versions of the proposal to provide safeguards for worker participation arrangements, these safeguards have been seen by trade unions as too weak for protecting many types of existing arrangements. Strangely enough, although the SPE is supposed to be targeted at SMEs, official proposals have lacked a “cap” on the number of employees the SPE could have. Thus in principle very large companies would also be allowed to register as SPEs.

The ETUC has been clear on their demands regarding the SPE: this should not be established as a vehicle which allows companies to “escape” their national industrial relations systems and to undermine Social Europe. In March 2011 the ETUC issued a press release stating concern over the Hungarian proposal and in April 2011 the ETUC executive committee approved a resolution calling for a minimum standard on worker information, consultation and participation which would apply to all European company legal forms such as the SPE. Currently the highest standard at the European level for protecting and enabling worker involvement is defined by the SE legislation. Consistent with the principle of Social Europe, EU decision makers would be well advised to promote and respect such minimum standards in any further efforts to promote the SPE.

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