From undefined ‘Social Europe’ to ‘more democracy at work’ – new trends, new paradigms?
Social Europe is a keyword, even a buzzword during European election campaigns. Most of the time it is used to keep hands free after elections, to avoid any concrete commitments in the social area. This chapter shows that Social Europe as a concept has manifold meanings and even more connotations and subtexts. A key feature of Social Europe is democracy at work which has to do with information-consultation-participation, European Works Councils, board-level representation, sustainable corporate governance, sustainable company, stakeholder and shareholder approach. Global debates on the need for workers’ representatives in company boardrooms brought the topic back on the agenda. The state of democracy in general is linked to the state of democracy at work. Examining the discussion on the company law package is an important element of the chapter, from the early preparation and drafting of the package, the reactions of key actors, the modifications imposed by such key actors as the European Parliament (EP), tabling more than 1,000 amendments, transforming it into a more balanced package and finally the trialogue which did not take up the changes towards more democracy at work due to poorly thought out negotiation tactics of the EP delegation. Equally important are the European and international contexts. From different angles, the question of those ‘left behind’ played an important role in the Brexit referendum, Donald Trump’s victory, the trade conflict between the US and China, and the attempts of China to intrude upon the European periphery. Europe is in multiple layers of transition: towards fair digitisation and a low carbon economy, torn between authentic genuine democracy and authoritarian deviations and distortions of democracy. The Gramscian concept of the ‘interregnum’ applies and the future of Social Europe in the digital era is open again. Nevertheless, path dependency will continue to play a role and European integration has to steer through the undergrowth of national pathways. The term Social Europe suffers from overuse and under-definition. Social Europe is still a policy area which deserves and needs much more attention and policy initiatives, in particular on the topic of democracy at work.