Also among trade unions the question of board-level representation was disputed for quite some time. This dispute is, however, ended and ETUC and the European Industry Federations support the demand for an extension of board-level representation rights across Europe.

The reason behind these differing opinions among European trade unions was that especially the unions in countries with a rather conflict-oriented tradition of industrial relations opposed any direct involvement in company decision-making. Their argument was that in this way they would be made responsible for management decisions they could ultimately not prevent (in none of the member states is the worker side in a position to prevent a board decision from being taken).

On the other hand, the unions from countries with experience of this form of employee interest representation argued that their presence in the boardroom enables them not only to receive valuable information in good time, but also to make their voice heard where decisions are taken. Sitting on the company’s board of directors or the supervisory board represents an important additional and key level of their interest representation system as a whole.

At European level, however, the general dispute has been settled for quite some time. Therefore it was also not surprising that European trade unions have from the beginning welcomed the compromise reached in respect of the European Company and have supported its implementation. The result was perceived as not perfect but by and large a fair compromise. While the ETUC’s Helsinki congress in 1999 described the possibility for employees to influence enterprise decision-making at the highest level as a ‘new right at work’, from now on, the action programme of the Prague congress in 2003 declared, the ETUC and the European trade union organisations would together strive for the highest possible level of workers’ participation in SEs (ETUC Action Programme 2003). It suggested that the employee mandates on SE supervisory boards or administrative boards should be exercised as ‘European mandates’.

At the meeting of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Executive Committee on 15/16 October 2008 a resolution was unanimously adopted to:

  • establish a European Worker Participation Fund (EWPF) located within the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI); and
  • setup the European Worker Participation Competence Centre (EWPCC) as part of the ETUI, to be financially supported by the transfer of (part of) the remuneration of workers' representatives on the supervisory and administrative boards of European Companies (SEs).

Nonetheless, some national unions still oppose this form of representation for the above mentioned reasons. However, in general a very positive shift towards board-level representation has been observed over the past 20 years.