Looking Ahead 2024: EU
The European Union’s Social Policy
The European Union will hold elections in June 2024. Therefore, the coming months will be focused on finalising the work of this legislature. After April, the EU will enter into full election modus, and thus, there will only be four months left to get things done. After the elections, a new Commission will need to set its priorities for the coming years. If Ursula von der Leyen and the current parties remain in place, it is generally expected that they will continue to foster new rules in order to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Green Deal (with a just transition), and the digital transition. Below, we give an overview of the most important evolutions to expect in the coming months.
1. Platform Work Directive
This Directive is one of the main ambitions of the von der Leyen Commission, but it appears to be a bumpy political road to get it approved. The Commission introduced its legislative proposal in December 2021. This proposal provides for a rebuttable legal presumption of an employment contract if the majority of the 5 criteria are fulfilled by the working situation of a digital platform worker. Next, it contains a set of rules to regulate the algorithmic management of the platform workers by the digital labour platforms. These rules restrict the freedom to make decisions by algorithms regarding the workers and grant information rights to the workers. However, the EU parliament proposed a more protective legal presumption, while the Council was less ambitious. Nonetheless, the negotiators reached a provisional agreement on the Directive on 12 December 2023. Although this agreement was expected to open the gates for its final approval on 20 December, France announced that it would vote against the proposal. Also, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania have all expressed concerns over the agreement. Their opposition (enough to form a blocking majority) prevented a formal vote from taking place during the Council meeting on 22 December 2023. The negotiations, therefore, will have to continue under the Belgian presidency of the Council during the first half of 2024, and it remains a question whether this Directive will see the day of light before the June elections.
2. Revision of the Coordination of Social Security Regulation No. 883/2004 (and No. 987)
If you think that the Platform Work Directive is running an extraordinarily difficult trajectory, think twice. On 13 December 2016, the (previous) Commission proposed a revision of the EU legislation on social security coordination. The proposal is currently being discussed by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. For employers, it is mostly interesting to know that “it proposes to strengthen the administrative rules on social security coordination for posted workers. It wants to make sure national authorities have the right tools to verify the social security status of such workers and sets clearer procedures for cooperation between Member State authorities to address potentially unfair practices or abuse.”
A provisional agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council on 16 December 2021. However, since then, the proposal has been blocked. The Spanish Presidency of the Council (2nd half of 2023) has tried to work out a compromise but was met by a large opposition of 15 member states. It seems that it will be up to the Belgian Presidency to try and force a breakthrough. Otherwise, the revision will be postponed to the next legislature.
3. Framework agreement on telework and a right to disconnect
In 2023, the European social partners tried to reach an agreement on minimum rules regarding remote work/telework. After negotiating for a year, the talks broke down in November 2023 and appear to be over for an indefinite term. However, it is possible (but rather unlikely) that the Belgian Presidency of the Council will push the social partners to give it another go. If not, this issue might be picked up by the next Commission (or by the EU social partners themselves at a later moment).
4. Return and reform of the fiscal rules and the European Semester
As a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, the strict EU fiscal rules have been temporarily suspended since 2020. This allowed the Member States to invest in their economies. However, this suspension ends in 2024, meaning the Maastricht criteria of a maximum budgetary deficit of 3% of the GDP and a maximum national debt of 60% will come back into force. This will likely impact the budgetary policy and the social policy of many member states. At the same time, the EU is negotiating a reform of the fiscal rules, which would give member states more flexibility by giving them longer fiscal adjustment periods to respect the rules. The EU is also working on a reform (and simplification) of the reporting rules under the European Semester.
5. A new Val Duchesse Summit on Social Dialogue
In her “State of the European Union” speech of October 2023, Ursula von der Leyen announced a new social partner summit in Val Duchesse in the first half of 2024. This meeting refers to the first summit in the Val Duchesse royal domain in Brussels at the instigation of back-then Commission President, Jacques Delors, to boost the emergence of a European social dialogue in 1985. It is the current Commission’s ambition to revive social dialogue at the European level (as well as at the national level). This ambition was highlighted last year by the publication of a Council recommendation regarding strengthening social dialogue in the European Union and at the national level and a Commission communication relating to the same topic.
6. Initiative on the European Works Council
The Commission also announced an initiative to revise the rules regarding the European Works Council after it was called to action by the European Parliament. Although the Commission has foreseen a legal initiative in its work programme for 2024, it is questionable (but it cannot be excluded) whether the current Commission will still have the time to submit a proposal. It is more likely that this will be left to the future Commission.