Policy evaluation 2: The Social Chapter

The specification says the following about what you need to know on the Social Chapter

  • The Social Chapter: how and why the issue of social rights became an issue for the EU; the main provisions of the Social Chapter; how and why the Social Chapter has caused controversy- with the associated benefits and drawbacks of its provisions; the impact it has had on labour markets- including flexibility, mobility and competitiveness; the extent to which the Social Chapter has been perceived as successful.

Definition: The Social Chapter was introduced at Maastricht where Britain used its opt-out to stop it becoming part of EU law. It included protection of social rights and EU level regulation of social policy. Blair signed up in 1997.

1) The main argument against the Social Chapter is that it prevents competitiveness. Regulations such as the Working Time Directive and increasing workers rights mean that EU countries are less able to compete with emerging markets who have cheap deregulated labour markets. For example industrialising Poland is not sticking to the Working Time Directive and probably never will while it continues to industrialise. Britain still has an opt-out from the Working Time Directive and is highly unlikely to ever join. This is because there are different Social Models and cultures across the EU. While the Brits value their work and work long hours, the French tend to spend more time in leisure.

2) The Social Chapter has also meant an expansion of EU legislation into nation states. The Richards v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2006 case saw EU legislation under the Social Chapter over rule a UK ruling. Many euro sceptics see the Social Chapter as a loss of sovereignty. This arguably though also shows the strengths of the Social Chapter as it actively protects the rights of EU citizens. Also the 2008 case where the Swedish firm in the UK hired Italians on Italian wages was told it had to pay them British wages.

3) Considering the Single Market and increased movement of labour, it is essential for the EU to also have social protection to protect that labour when it moves across the countries. This is the aim of the Social Chapter. Although it is a step towards harmonising a Social Model, it is still a long way off from this and even the Charter of Fundamental Rights which was included in the Lisbon treaty 2009 had opt outs from the Czech Republic, UK and Poland when it came to making it part of national law.