6 Colum. J. Eur. L. 209 (2000)
Silvana Sciarra. Professor of European Labor and Social Law, EUI Florence and University of Florence Law School.
The sequence of European Council meetings and their conclusions is a visible sign of how the slow and yet continuous process of integration materializes and produces tangible results. The unclear and often obscure jargon adopted in official documents may at times appear self-referential and repetitive. It may, however, serve the purposes of introducing new targets into national governments agendas and opening new fields to political intervention. A word or phrase may catch public attention, echo through subsequent elaboration and eventually be remembered as the starting point of a new strategy.
The recent Lisbon summit of the European Council on economic and social issues has offered the “Lisbon Strategy” as a semantic plan. The emphasis that the Portuguese Prime Minister placed on social issues, in his words “a primacy of politics over the economy,” indicates that national choices and policies are to be considered indispensable in the fulfillment of European objectives. What this means in terms of closer cooperation (in light of Article 43 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)) and which alternatives are offered following the path of coordination will be the subject of further analysis. Meanwhile, it is useful to provide a historical background to these most recent policy indications and tolink them with the establishment of the monetary union.
In the future, the “Lisbon Strategy” will most likely be associated with another catchphrase formulated by the Presidency, namely the opening-up of Europe to the new economy and the furtherance of a “world-class communications infrastructure” as a means of promoting local development and creating job opportunities. The “Dotcom Summit” – as it has been effectively described – will undoubtedly set in motion the dissemination of initiatives and the production of policy guidelines in an area crucial to the world economy. Results from the promotion of employment- related plans – the main concern of this paper – might not be immediately visible.
Yet the link established between life-long education and access to information must be seen as central to furthering social inclusion. Data on the adoption of new technologies presented by the Commission to the Lisbon Council shows how far behind the EU lags when compared to the United States (US). The data also indicates that, within the EU, Internet access varies relative to income bracket. Competitiveness should run parallel to social inclusion, if the goal is to pursue an increased access to information and the elimination of the gap among low and high-income consumers who seek access to the new technology.
Individual and collective rights will be at stake when this new field is expanded by legislation. The broad construction of yet another new generation of social rights should therefore remain within the framework of legal analysis, even when, as in the present discussion, the focus is on employment.
Prior to engaging in a more detailed analysis of policy orientations which, over the years, have prepared the way for and facilitated the current discussion, it is important to mention one of the earliest and most original points put forth by the Portuguese presidency: self-restraint. Rather than proposing a new “process” to further European growth and employment, the suggestion has been instead to coordinate existing processes.7 An example of this can be seen in the results of the Cologne, Cardiff and Luxembourg European Council meetings. Cologne, Cardiff and Luxembourg have, in a way, through the suggested coordination of different procedures proposed at the three separate Council meetings, lost their geographic identity. Thus, these towns all figuratively blend together in a Portuguese “policy melting pot,” in which macroeconomic policies are blended with structural and employment policies.
The most recent Council’s guidelines on employment have already incorporated this ethos of coordinating procedures – evident from what appears to be a short summary of the relevant political cornerstones after the Amsterdam Treaty (which is of great importance to employment policies within the EU due to the fact that it contains a new Chapter on Employment). In 1997, as we shall see, the Luxembourg European Council launched the European employment strategy. Structural economic reforms were brought forward at the Cardiff European Council meeting in June 1998 with a view to improving the efficiency of product and capital markets. In 1999, the Cologne European Council consolidated a European employment pact, adopting at a European level the language of macroeconomic dialogue.
It is argued below that European employment policies developed out of a complex interaction among institutional and quasi-institutional actors and gave rise to a slow search for the requisite balance among European institutions that is unique to the European legal system. This interaction has resulted in progress achieved through diverse and flexible solutions. Additionally, this article argues that soft law was a central factor in creating employment policies. The creation of employment policies is a practice that needs to be developed into an even more deeply-rooted European employment culture, capable of balancing social values against market- driven efficiency. Observation of current developments may prove that it is time to move beyond soft law and link all institutional actors to more binding principles.