‘”The Big Bang”: Analysing the EU Enlargements’ Impact on National Labour Law’
In 2004, then President of the European Union’s European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, declared that “from fifteen – suddenly there were twenty-five, and finally, Europe had become ‘Europe’ again.” He was speaking, of course, about the European Union (EU) enlargement when, in May 2004 and fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, eight post-communist Central and Eastern European countries joined the European Union. On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became the ninth and tenth Eastern European States to accede to the EU. It is difficult to overestimate the political and economic significance of these eastern enlargements. The biggest enlargement that the EU has ever seen was widely described as “the big bang” not only due to its size but because of the significance of former Soviet bloc states becoming members, thereby signifying an end to the Cold War division of Europe between East and West.
In the years that have followed, the enlargements have resulted in an unprecedented increase in the movement of workers from East to West. Despite economic evidence pointing to these EU migrants having a positive impact on the economies of their host states, public opinion across Western European Member States has become increasingly hostile not only to migration but to EU integration itself. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’) on 23 June 2016 following a campaign dominated by emotional debates over EU immigration is a case in point. This is not to say that the scale of post-enlargement, intra-EU migration has not had a visible impact on Western European labour markets. Indeed, it raises profound challenges for the labour law systems tasked with regulating those markets. As actors within those markets, trade unions are in a uniquely difficult position: they have to respond to their members’ concerns over increased immigration; while recognising that they must to react to EU workers in such a way so as to facilitate their integration into the labour market.
What impact then did the enlargements have on Western European labour law systems? How are trade unions responding to the challenges of the European enlargements? Is there anything that trade unions in different countries can learn from each other? What kind of laws would help trade unions to better respond to the effects of the enlargements?
The search for the answers to these questions prompted me to write New Labour Laws in Old Member States: Trade Union Responses to European Enlargement. The book compares and contextualises trade union responses in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and the UK to the challenges of the 2004 and 2007 enlargements. It adopts a socio-legal framework in order to examine the relationship between trade unions and labour law at a national and European level. This allows for a determination of the kinds of laws that would benefit trade unions at a national and European level and illustrates how trade unions can use law and the opportunities that law has to offer them to better respond to the challenges of the enlargements.
Read Rebecca Zahn’s full work on this topic here: New Labour Laws in Old Member States