European works councils (EWCs) and similar structures provide a mechanism for informing and consulting with employees at European level, with employee representatives from the countries concerned brought together in a single body. The way they operate is set out in an agreement with the company concerned. But the rules deciding who negotiates this agreement are set out in national legislation, and in general, they reflect the existing structures in the countries concerned.
The mechanisms for electing national representatives to the special negotiating body (SNB), which negotiates the terms for European works councils or similar bodies, such as the representative bodies in a European Company (SE), largely reflect other national arrangements for representing employees. For example, in Germany, where works councils are the key body at workplace level, it is works councils who choose the German members of the SNB, while in Sweden, where unions have the key role, it is the unions with whom the company negotiates who choose Swedish SNB members. National arrangements for employee representation at the workplace are also largely reflected in the fallback arrangements which apply if proves impossible to negotiate an agreement with the SNB.
In total, there are six states – Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – where the SNB members are chosen by the works council. There are a further 10 states – Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden – where they are chosen by the union, although the precise arrangements differ. For example, in Portugal they are chosen by the unions in agreement with the works council and in Romania, they are chosen by the existing employees’ representatives, who are defined in the legislation as the trade union representatives, unless there is no union. In Denmark, they are chosen by the cooperation committee, which is a largely union body, while in Finland the legislation is not specific, although in most cases they will be chosen by the unions. This leaves three states – the Czech and Slovak Republics and Latvia – where they are chosen jointly by all employee representatives, whether union or non-union, and seven states – Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Ireland, Malta, Norway (for EWCs but not European Company representative bodies) and Slovenia – where they are elected by all employees – either at a general meeting or by secret ballot. Finally, there are two states where there are no national arrangements for appointing members of the SNB or fallback arrangements. These are Switzerland, which has never been a member of the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA) and the UK, where legislation setting out the rules for SNB elections, was repealed in 2019 because of Brexit.
Other issues, including how national employee representatives at board level are chosen under the fallback procedure, are examined in the national reports.
Figure 1 shows the parties responsible for choosing representation at European level in the 27 EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Figure 1: Parties who choose representation at European level in the 27 EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom