Corps de l’article

The editors’ introduction immediately outlines what they suggest is a possibly insurmountable challenge to European integration: “. . . the diversity among Member States and the constraints originating from EU rules on economic integration and competition laws are major reasons to doubt the viability of common European social policies . . . that the social model will not be sustainable, one reason being that enlargement has increased the diversity among the EU Member States significantly, another that many of the new Members States have enacted neo-liberal policies in a radical way . . . and these add to the neo-liberal orientation which some of the EU-15 Member States are also pursuing to varying degrees.” (p. 1).

Having situated their contribution, the question upon which the ensuing articles concentrate is outlined: “how does the process of European integration impact on industrial relations at various levels, and who are the main actors in this process?” There are a number of limitations which the editors observe, such as “the lack of a tradition of social dialogue at sectoral and enterprise levels in most [Central and Eastern European (CEE)] Member States” as well as the conflicting appeal for CEE workers to move to Member States with better wages and for enterprises to relocate production within CEE Member States. A notable level of caution (if not pessimism) can be found in these introductory pages, overtly suggesting broader consequences. For example, the editors opine that “adaptation to macroeconomic changes will therefore be more orientated towards increasing labour market flexibility and reducing expenditure on social protection benefits.” (p. 3).

This collection of essays constitutes snapshots of countries or elaborations of specific issues within the authors’ home nations. This is not a collection of best practices. Instead, these contributions are considered analyses of the seemingly infinite issues arising with respect to integration of the “New Europe” and its industrial relations impact on the original and new Member States. Slovenia presents the reader with a good example. Stanojevic and Vehovar expound on Slovenian integration, concluding: “we believe that a significant decrease in the power of trade unions would result in economic efficiency based on growing job insecurity and cheap labour. In that scenario, Slovenia would unavoidably get trapped into competing solely on price and sink to a low-skill equilibrium.” (pp. 96-97).

In recounting the consequences of enlargement on Spain, Kohler and Gonzalez Begaga utilize Spanish trade unions’ former indifference towards European Works Councils (EWCs) as an instructive example for new Member States as to the benefits of cooperation amongst workers. Erin van der Maas supplies an exploration of the challenges faced by British trade unions as they confront an increasingly ‘Europeanized’ landscape.

A strength of this collection (as a general statement) is the accessibility of contributions. For example, Meriaux’s exposition of the sociological elements of corps statuses in French public sector employment guides the reader through its implications. He illuminates the distinct “rigidities” of the term which include: job certainty within the sector; the variant forms of corps statuses; a “logic” which is “contradictory to any rigorous approach to job requirements and skills”; and the organizational structure created under the name corps which prevents mobility.

The collection also puts forward some key considerations during the current experiment of a common European labour market. One of these is the notion of partnership. Stuart and Martinez Lucio theorize on its appeal to both sides of labour relations: first, confrontational labour relations falls short of creating a good working relationship thereby undermining high business performance; second, partnership may be a safe haven for trade unions as they face declining membership and therefore a means of regaining a level of relevance or “institutional centrality.” How far can partnership be a viable option between two historically confrontational sides? Certainly there is a call to adapt to the integrated future and yet van der Maas’ article suggests that this is an especially difficult move for trade unions. Since enterprises often have final decision-making power which extends beyond employment, how viable is partnership? Consider Pelgrims, Steen and Thijs’ piece on Flemish staff participation. Staff members were not allowed to participate in reforms. Despite this, the authors conclude that “while unions have not been actively involved in reform plans and can only negotiate on specific regulations, they still hold a strong position influencing reforms . . . [because] traditionally high numbers of civil servants are union members and unions are being seen as having a legitimate interest in public sector reform.” Furthering the dialogue within this collection, White, Dennison, Farnham and Horton sketch the concept of employee voice in UK public services finding: “at institutional level there is a new commitment to better public service industrial relations and recognition that public service reform can only be achieved with the cooperation of staff and their trade unions.”

The editors’ “Concluding Analysis” further facilitates the collections’ accessibility. Here, the strands created by the contributors are woven together in a mild manner, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. For example, summarizing the idea of partnership, the editors note that its form in the UK relies heavily on the presence of “strong and independent unions”—something which not all EU Member States have. A most welcome element of this last chapter is the extrapolation of contributors’ points regarding public sector industrial relations—an area which at times is overlooked because of the private sector’s economic dominance. Overall, all roads lead to flexibility (or we may say flexicurity as the European Commission has recently stated) and the search for flexibility challenges the notion of a social Europe.