SP 6: Europeanization of Labour Relations

Subproject 6 focuses on factors that facilitate or hinder the transnational coordination of wage and employment policies against the background of macro-economic imbalances in the Eurozone and the new framework of European Economic Governance set up in reaction to the economic and currency crisis of the European Union. Since currency devaluations as an instrument to boost the international competitiveness of a country are no longer available in the Euro area, pressures on national institutions of wage setting have increased. While the transnational coordination of national and sectoral wage policies could contribute to the reduction of macro-economic imbalances, the institutional preconditions for a European coordination of wage setting have deteriorated because of interventions of the Troika in national systems of employment relations in countries with current account deficits and high public debt.

This project aims to investigate the possibilities and limits of a transnational coordination of wage policies. We take a closer look at those social mechanisms which contribute to or hinder the coordination of employment policies at transnational level. Our focus on transnational forms of wage policy coordination calls for a thorough understanding of various forms of wage coordination. Thus, we focus on countries and sectors which vary according to a ‘most different systems’-design. These are Italy on the one hand and Germany and Austria on the other hand, as well as the metal sector and the social services sector. Furthermore, Germany and Austria are historically interesting cases from a ‘most similar systems’-design approach. While in Austria intact institutions of wage coordination exist, Germany displays stronger tendencies of institutional erosion.

First project phase


Europeanization of Labor Relations

The project focuses on trade union strategies and action in the organisational field of industrial relations in Europe. It examines how trade unions contribute to the democratisation of the ‘European Project’.  By carrying out a number of case studies in two sectors, manufacturing and hospitals, the project aims to uncover the factors that facilitate or inhabit processes of horizontal Europeanisation in the field of work and industrial relations.

European integration, and the Single Market and Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in particular, pose considerable challenges to trade unions. While their main power resources are still provided within national systems of industrial relations, such as membership and institutional support (e.g. free collective bargaining and mechanisms for the extension of collective agreements), employers display a high level of transnational mobility and hence, capacity for regime shopping. Some authors have therefore argued that the process of Europeanisation inevitably strengthens the position of employers vis-à-vistrade unions (e.g. Streeck 1998; Scharpf 2010).

However, trade unions in some sectors and occupations (such as the metal sector) have responded to economic and political processes of Europeanisation with transnational coordination of collective bargaining and strike action. In this regard, EMU was undisputably a driver for transnational collective action and hence, for horizontal Europeanisation. Against this background, the project addresses the following research question:

How do national trade unions strategically respond to processes of vertical and market-driven Europeanization?

Contingent upon existing power resources of trade unions at national and EU level we distinguish between three strategic options:

  1. (Re-)Nationalisation
  2. Euro-democratic strategies
  3. Euro-technocratic strategies

In this regard, the project aims to explore patterns and processes of horizontal Europeanisation in the field of industrial relations as well as strategies of (re)nationalization.