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The EU's Promotion of Social Dialogue in the New Member States

Nieves Perez-Solorzano, Stijn Smismans

This paper discusses the EU's initiatives to strengthen the European Social dialogue in light of the challenges posed by the accession of the countries from Central and Eastern Europe. The social dialogue constitutes a particularly challenging case of policy transfer given the absence of commonly agreed normative principles about the desirability of Industrial Relations (IR) as well as models to define the templates and benchmarking criteria that the acceding countries would be expected to incorporate and conform to. At the same time IR are inherently autonomous and can only operate as far as the societal forces can provide the bottom-up dynamics for it, which explains the reluctance of public authority to intervene in this sphere. Similarly despite a long-lasting discourse about the social dialogue being an integral part of the acquis communautaire its explicit absence from the Copenhagen criteria explains the European Commission's maximalist interpretation of the social acquis which justifies its incorporation as part of the institutional and administrative acquis. We argue that the social dialogue is above all a non sanctioned normative discourse with which the Commission hopes to influence the framing of institution building in the EU10, rather than a stringent membership condition. As the evidence in the paper shows, the EU's strategy for social dialogue capacity building reflects its perceived stabilising role and the need to develop an efficient national system of industrial relations that secures the good functioning of the European Social Dialogue. The weakness of industrial relations in the NMS offers limited evidence of the success of these initiatives.

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