The Bottom Line of European Labour Law (Part I)

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When the Treaty of Rome came into force in 1958, nobody would have dared prognosticate such a dynamic development of the body of legislation which we today are accustomed to calling European Labour Law. It is well known that the Founding Fathers did not take the line of enhanced social policy on the European level and therefore assigned the area of labour law only a very limited role. But due to changes in the political and economic arena at the beginning of the 1970s, a social policy approach gained momentum which did not replace the dominant economic approach, but at least came alongside this model and had a strong impact on policy-making. It resulted in several pieces of legislation, the nature of which was mainly crisis management (Directives concerning employer insolvency, collective redundancies, transfer of undertakings). The further development of European Labour Law is characterized by this tension between economic and social requirements and this tension explains the ups and downs of European Labour Law. The need to balance economic and social necessities is mirrored also in the jurisprudence of the ECJ which in the shaping of European Labour Law has been of the utmost importance. The same is true for the activities of the European social partners who finally became part of the law-making process on the European level. The European Employment Strategy constitutes a new challenge for labour legislation which might be forced to give preference to reducing protection standards in order to reach higher employment levels. But so far the social rights approach – also adopted in the Charter of Fundamental Rights – seems to continue its influence.

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