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24th Oct 2020

National parliaments show 'yellow card' to EU law on strikes

  • Several national parliaments believe the European Commission should not be acting in this area (Photo: kaysha)

A draft EU law governing the right to strike is set to be reviewed after complaints by national law-makers that the issue is best dealt with nationally.

The so-called Monti II law which attempts to clarify the balance between collective action and the freedom of companies to offer services across the EU has raised concerns in 12 national parliaments that the European Commission has overstepped its powers.

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Among those that have raised the warning flag are Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The three were directly affected by prominent EU court rulings on cases concerning strikes by local workers when companies used cheaper workers from other member states.

Parliaments in Portugal, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, France, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands have also complained.

The European Court of Justice decisions in the "Viking" and "Laval" cases prompted fierce debate through their emphasis on the importance and predominance of upholding the single market.

The proposed law was a response to the debate. It suggests the creation of EU-level agreement on settling labour disputes and setting up an alert mechanism where member states can warn one another of industrial relations problems or "serious social unrest."

The law's preamble notes that the right to strike "is not absolute" and its exercise "may be subject to certain conditions and restrictions."

The national parliaments claim that the commission is breaching the principle of subsidiarity - meaning Brussels should only act if it is clear that action would not be better carried out at a local level.

Many of the opinions suggest the commission proposal will disturb existent dispute settling arrangements in national law.

"The Danish Parliament finds that the proposal does not provide further clarity as regards, on the one hand, the need to ensure free movement and on the other hand, the need to ensure the workers’ right to take collective action," says the Folketinget.

The UK's House of Commons notes that the commission's wish to have a more "committed political approach" should not replace "evidence of necessity for the EU to act."

Finland's submission points out that the proposed law is not clear on what constitutes trans-border action. Many opinions note that the EU treaty explicitly excludes the right to strike from being subject to European legislation

A first for the yellow card system

EU commissioners will decide on Wednesday (30 May) whether the threshold for a review has been reached - making it a first for the "yellow card" system introduced with the Lisbon Treaty and meant to involve parliaments more in EU law-making.

The 12 member states have 19 votes between them - one more than needed to set off the system.

But even if the commission pledges to review the law it may still survive in its current form. The treaty says the commission can "maintain, amend or withdraw" the draft, which was denounced by trade unions when it was published.

"Whichever route it takes it must publish reasons for its decision," said institutional affairs spokesperson Antonio Gravili.

"The issue here is that subsidiarity is a political concept rather than a judicial one. Every proposal we make, we believe, respects subsidiarity," he added, with no fixed deadline for the commission's decision on what to do with the law.

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