On 16 April, the Commission launched a discussion on how to render decision-making at EU level more efficient in the social field. As a result, three Communications have already been adopted and a fourth one, on social policy, is now being published. With this Communication, the Commission is launching a debate on an enhanced use of qualified majority voting in social policy, hoping to make decision-making more “timely, flexible and efficient”. This possibility is provided for in the EU Treaties for several specific areas through so-called passerelle clauses. These clauses allow for a shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting under certain circumstances. As a first step, the Commission proposes to consider the use of the passerelle to facilitate decision-making on non-discrimination. The use of the passerelle clause could also be considered in the near future to adopt recommendations in the area of social security and social protection of workers. To activate this passerelle clause, according to Article 48(7) of the Treaty on European Union, the European Council would have to decide by unanimity, with no objection from national parliaments, and with the European Parliament’s consent.
The Commission invites the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, social partners and all stakeholders to engage in an open debate on an enhanced use of qualified majority voting and the ordinary legislative procedure in social policy on the basis of the Communication. CEEP commitment to this debate is based on its role as an organisation which, together with its employers and trade-union counterparts, contributed to the very definition and constitution of Europe’s social dimension and its legislative and non-legislative tools, through constant negotiations, debates and cooperation with the EU institutions. CEEP believes that a stronger potential lies in the EU bringing support to Member States in developing further initiatives and actions which would ensure a stronger refocus of EU instruments for social policy purposes. Instruments like the European Semester were built to ensure progressive convergence between the Member States through debates, mutual-learning and peer pressure on issues often exclusively in the remit of Member States such as social protection and education and training policies. CEEP supported the inclusion of the Pillar of social rights in the EU Semester as an effort to making it more balanced with the economic dimension whilst respecting the strict repartition of competence in the European Union.
CEEP members believe that respecting the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality is a condition sine qua non to the success and widespread acceptance of further development of the EU Social Dimension. It is also critical to recall that a unique model that would work for every country does not exist and that only Member States can anticipate the implications of policy initiatives at national, regional and local level. Full harmonization of EU social rights is presently neither desirable nor politically feasible in the present state of the EU since divergences between Member States are too important in terms of social and industrial relation systems. There could also be strong political risks created by exploring the use of the passerelle clause. Before the European elections and the risk of seeing the rise of euroskepticism in Europe and in the European Parliament, the use of the passerelle clause may send the wrong signal that Member States are being overruled. The progressive integration of national policies, by which Member States are asked to give up part of their sovereignty, is a long term and far-reaching process, which requires long-term and consistent support from EU governments and citizens. Unanimous decision-making may take longer and require more patience from all involved in the process, but it offers better guarantees for a broad support for integration.