© 2004
Interview with EU Commissioner Vladimír Špidla

FotoFotoQuestion: What is the role of the EWC Directive in the European Commission Work Programme and for you as the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities?

Špidla: The submission of a proposal to revise the EWC Directive is a priority for the Commission for 2008. I personally and the European Commission as a whole attach great importance to the European works councils, especially in anticipating and in accompanying restructuring and in developing European partnerships at company level. Currently there are about 850 EWC bodies in Europe, covering 14.5 million employees - a significant number!

Where they are active, European works councils help to improve corporate governance in large transnational companies - a key factor for sustainable competitiveness. However, we know that EWCs were not properly informed and consulted in a large number of restructuring cases. We also know that there are some legal ambiguities in the application of the Directive, particularly regarding the relationship between national and transnational levels of workers' representation and the effects of corporate mergers and acquisitions. I am convinced that we must find effective ways to ensure the timely and effective information and consultation of workers and improve the social dialogue at company level, for the benefit of workers and businesses alike

Question: The Commission intends to commence a further consultation on the revision of the EWC Directive. What are the main reasons for the consultation, and what is the focus of the Commission in that process?

Špidla: A proposal for a revised EWC directive would have the objectives of ensuring the effectiveness of transnational information and consultation rights and greater coherence between Community legal instruments and of resolving the problems and legal uncertainties encountered. I will thus propose to the Commission to launch the so-called second stage consultation of the social partners on the revision of the European Works Councils Directive early in 2008, a pre-condition for the revised directive. Under this process, unions and employers' organisations will be able to express their views before the Commission's proposal is submitted to the European Parliament and to the Council.

The problems we are trying to fix are the ones I just described, mainly shortcomings in effective consultation and legal uncertainties. We also have to take into account the fact that the legislative context as regards employee involvement has strongly developed over recent years, by the adoption of a series of directives including the Directive 2002/14/EC establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community.

Question: What time frame would be realistic for the revision of the EWC directive?

Špidla: We intend to issue the legislative proposal for the revised EWC directive as soon as the consultation of the social partners on its envisaged content is closed and the appropriate impact assessment is done. This needs some months, but we should come through the process in 2008. Once the legislative proposal is adopted by the European Commission, the legislative process will start. It is very difficult to say how long it will take for the European Parliament and the Council to agree on this piece of legislation. I would hope that we can see a definitive result in the course of 2009.

Question: What would be other measures to ensure the implementation of a revised Directive?

Špidla: The application and enforcement of Community law involves many actors – the European institutions, the member states, including local and regional authorities and courts. The Commission recently adopted a communication entitled "A Europe of results - applying Community law", which suggests ways to improve the application of Community law.

But we are not yet at the stage of implementing and applying the revised Directive, we are at the stage of designing it. We consider that the present problems faced in EWCs' operations are linked to inappropriate practices in companies as well as to shortcomings in the present Directive rather than to failures by the member states to implement the Directive. The content of the revision should therefore be aimed at addressing the shortcomings identified in the Directive so as to ensure the effectiveness of transnational information and consultation rights.

But, you know, it is not just about legislation. Change starts in the mind. If we want to make this a success for workers and European economy, things need to change at company level. So, a hands-on approach and the exchange of best practice between social partners will be crucial.

Question: What is the role of other DGs such as the Directorate General (DG) Enterprise and Industry in the revision process?

Špidla: The Commission works as a college. The initiative to revise the European works council Directive is a priority for the whole Commission. This was underlined by President Barroso recently when addressing a plenary session of the European Parliament. So, the know-how of all relevant DGs will be needed and DG Employment will work in close co-operation with all of them, notably with DG Enterprise and Industry.

For example: the revision of the EWC Directive is also a core element in the social dimension of the internal market, as it stems from the recent communication of the Commission "A single market for 21st century Europe". Moreover, amending a directive in order to make it more efficient comes under the general rules on "better regulation" which guide the actions of the whole Commission. As to the Commission's services, all initiatives are preceded by inter-service consultations and the impact assessment process also involves different Directorates General.

Vladimír Špidla was chairman of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, and Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. Between 2004 and 2010 he has been a member of the European Commission.

Vladimír Špidla was interviewed by Kathleen Kollewe on December 17th, 2007.

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