chapter  13
11 Pages

Transnational private governance in the EU: When social partners bargain beyond borders

BySTIJN SMISMANS

Neo-corporatism has a long history both in practice and in academic analysis. It refers to a form of socioeconomic governance in which peak associations of trade unions and employer’s organisations play a central role. Neo-corporatism has been mainly linked to the European continent – although with strongly different intensity across countries, and excluding the communist countries – and often placing it in opposition to a more pluralist system of interest intermediation in the United States. The neo-corporatist reality includes both a tripartite interaction between trade unions, employer’s organisations and the government on aspects of socioeconomic policy, and the recognition of an autonomous sphere in which trade unions and employers’ organisations can on a bipartite basis set standards for the employment relation through collective agreements. While the natural and legal effects of collective agreements differ across the countries, one can generally argue that neo-corporatism includes this aspect of leaving certain regulatory tasks to the autonomy of the social partners. This tradition of collective bargaining and collective agreements can be considered as one of the most developed examples of private governance, although the traditional literature on the issue would not employ that concept. In fact, the neocorporatist literature has focused more on the tripartite interaction with the government, whereas the industrial relations literature mainly describes the different national systems in a comparative perspective. Labour lawyers have been most confronted with the particular ‘private-public’ nature of collective agreements since they noticed on the one hand the private contract features of such agreements while recognising on the other hand a more public governance dimension to them due to their normative function. Yet, while the concept of ‘private governance’ is relatively young in political science, it is even less a part of the lawyers’ vocabulary.