Europeanization of Social Policies: Benchmarking the Implementation of the European Social Dialogue Agreements
In this time of crisis, employment and social policies remain governed at EU level by soft coordination. Yet, the analysis of soft law raises two crucial problems. The first one is a methodological problem: how is it possible to measure and monitor the impact of soft processes at the national level? The second one meets the theoretical challenges discussed in the literature about Europeanization and the influence of the EU on domestic policies. Are soft non-binding processes necessarily ineffective? How is it possible to appraise the influence of European social policies on national employment systems? In examining the outcomes of the European social dialogue, we consider they should not be only appraised according to their strict regulatory impact weighted in the terms used to evaluate traditional collective agreements. Being too narrow in the criteria used may lead to unjustified critiques that do not reflect the mere complexity and specificity of the ESD. Yet being too broad bears the risk of insufficient conceptual precision and of seeing causality where there is coincidence only.
Drawing on an empirical assessment of the national implementation of different forms of ESD agreements, the paper develops appropriate benchmarks to appraise the effectiveness and impacts of soft law. The influence of the European agreements is assessed against two major dimensions including procedural and substantive dimensions. The paper rests on a series of case studies and a comparative analysis of the implementation of two cross-sectoral agreements and three sectoral agreements. The findings show that in some national contexts ESD soft non-binding agreements will affect or at least maintain the national procedures and practices and entail a distribution of power at the domestic level. In addition, soft agreements will affect, according to different degrees, the content of national regulations and the practices of the national actors.