Blog AnalysisSocial Policy

Interim-Working time, Parliament regains control!

(B2)By adopting the “temporary work” directive without voting on amendments, by a very large majority, the European Parliament Employment Committee sent a clear signal to the Member States. We cannot “violate” the democratic will.

By refusing to take into account Parliament's major amendments to the working time directive (considering on-call time as working time, limiting exceptions to working time), then by linking two files which had nothing to do with the one to the other (temporary work and working time), if not to allow certain States to accept one file or the other, the 27 EU Labor Ministers (read the Battle of Trafalgar *) had cornered the European Parliament, in the form of an ultimatum: the “interim” text brings you satisfaction, also accept the text on working time, it is a global package, indefeasible.

The Council's dangerous game, for two reasons.

– It circumvents democratic representation, thus violates the balance desired by the Treaty between the two branches of legislative power (Parliament = representation of citizens, Council of the EU = representation of States) and undermines judicial control (it must be recalled in effect that the essential aim of this directive was to re-establish the position of the Member States which had been judged contrary to Community law, on several occasions, by the Court of Justice).

– The Member States have in fact intervened in this matter more as stakeholders (on-call time mainly concerns the public sector, and the State or public authorities as employer), than as legislators. Their objective was not to improve legislation, or the social situation of employees or public agents, but quite simply to ensure the sustainability of their
annual budget. Basically a budgetary objective (admittedly beneficial) but far from the primary objective of the directive: the health and safety of workers. It was nothing more and nothing less than a misuse of procedure (at least as lawyers might describe it).

Democratic representation must be able to exercise its role

The European Parliament (we still have to wait for the plenary vote, scheduled for the next October session in Strasbourg) now has a major card in hand. If it adopts the directive on temporary work without amendments, it ratifies its definitive adoption, without further reading (the text is adopted as soon as the two branches of legislative power in Europe, Parliament and Council, agree).

And he thus finds room for maneuver to really “negotiate” on the working time directive. The link between the two texts has – in fact – only a political value, and that only binds the member states of the Council (“promises only bind those who believe in them” one could paraphrase) . And it is my opinion that several Member States (and not the least of them…), mezzo vocce of course, would not be unhappy with this (re)take of power by Parliament.

Beyond the text at stake, this is therefore a major issue for the European Parliament, which will have to prove its ability to be able to negotiate on an equal footing with the States. A democratic test too…

The battle for working hours is therefore not over!


(*) To stay in history, remember that Nelson died of grapeshot during this famous battle. Don't see any sign for the country concerned...

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).