The European Works Council Directive 94/45/EC – governing the establishment of European Works Councils – has been applicable to transnational undertakings and groups of undertakings employing in total more than 1,000 employees in the EEA, at least 150 of them in two member states. This Directive evolved to become an important gauge of compliance with the European standards and practices shaping the European Social Model.

At the beginning of July 2008, the European Commission adopted the long-awaited legislative proposal for a revised Directive, the European Works Council Recast Directive 2009/38/EC. This was preceded by a hard-fought struggle between the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and employers’ federations under the leadership of BusinessEurope (the European confederation of industrial and employers’ federations). For the last decade or so, the latter had blocked every initiative to improve interest representation in European companies. Thus, in spring 2008, the ETUC had not made use of the possibility of bringing about a revision of the European Works Council Directive 94/45/EC via social partner negotiations on the basis of the social dialogue as it was clear that would lead to further delays. Indeed, the 1994 Directive was not the result of the social dialogue. Even at the end of the 1980s, there was little chance of reaching agreement with European employers on putting into practice the right to information and consultation as laid down in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights for employees.

The ETUC thus expressly welcomed the Commission’s proposal to surmount the European employers’ opposition by taking the legislative initiative itself. Some 15 years after the adoption of the original European Works Council Directive, a window of opportunity opened up once more to adapt the rights of European Works Councils to the realities of the European Single Market and to thereby strengthen the options of European Works Council and clear up remaining legal uncertainties.

More than another decade later, the Recast itself is under review. While this Directive closed some of the gaps between the scope and function of European Works Councils and European Company Works Councils, various stakeholders have advocated for the strengthening of European Works Councils and their ability to exercise information and consultation rights, while taking account of different industrial relations systems in Member States. Following two rounds of consultation with the social partners over 2023, a legislative proposal is anticipated in early 2024.

For a chronology of the legislative history of the European Works Councils Directives, see the Chronology Table.