In the Beginning, There Was Social Policy: Developments in Social Policy in the European Union from 1972 through 2008
This paper argues that the evolution of social policy – vulgo: labor market mandates – in the European Union seems to follow a set path. Intervals of activism have been followed by challenges and checks to its development, but Treaty innovations (inter al.) have provided the impetus for further activism. The classic and first case in point was the Single European Act (1976), which presaged a new bout of legislation by widening the reach of qualified majority voting. The next was Maastricht, or the Treaty on European Union (1991) and the Agreement on Social Policy, which for the first time established a firm basis for social policy. An intermediate but instructive step was passage of the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) which formally incorporated the latter into the main body of the treaty rather than leaving it as a Protocol appended to the treaty, The most recent instance is the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, which was to morph into the Reform (or Lisbon) Treaty of December 2007. This agreement portends more fundamental reforms for two reasons. First, it implies new legislation in the area of labor relations (issues such as pay determination, the rights to strike/lockout, and the right of association) previously expressly excluded from social policy. Second, it will test some member states applying European law, which means that theoretical opt outs may be just that. And, if history is any guide, there will be subsequent consolidation to bring the labor standards set under legislation into line with European Court of Justice decisions and a further ratcheting-up of standards.
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