European employment law at the crossroads

by Professor Jeremias Prassl

8 Aug 2015

European Employment and Social Policy is at a crucial crossroads: the emergence of new forms of work – from crowd-sourcing to platforms such as Uber – challenge established patters of labour market regulation, an ageing population combined with continuing increases in migration put pressure on domestic social security systems, and even as the macro-economic situation in most member states recovers from the financial crisis, workers see their share of the recovery diminish. Following last year’s elections to the European Parliament, and formation of a new European Commission, this on-going crisis should sit at the heart of policy makers’ search for new directions and priorities.

The Role of Academic Research in Tackling the Crisis

These developments have been matched by significant scholarly interest in the development of models to engage with the structural problems underpinning labour market weakness: from the failure of ‘flexicurity’ (creating employment through deregulation, whilst simultaneously protecting workers through social security systems) to strengthening labour mobility from the new member states in the face of measures to combat perceived ‘welfare tourism’. Crucially, however, there appears to be comparatively little engagement between the academy and senior policy makers in the EU. This is a problem for both sides. Many academics, in particular those early in their careers, struggle to identify important areas of work in line with the Union’s priorities and framework; and, second, in terms of understanding the subtle detail of the operation of the EU’s legislative and political processes. Policy makers, in turn, are rarely aware of the wide range of relevant research done across the 28 Member States. In the preparation of political arguments, for example, understanding the comparative impact of EU law in different countries’ legal systems can be crucial. In setting broad parameters of policy frameworks within the Commission, salient problems may often only be identified by those working on the ground.

Future Directions in EU Law: a BARSEA Project

By bringing together academic mentors, senior European officials from across different institutions, and early career labour law scholars selected from the 28 Member States, Shaping Future Directions in EU Labour Law hopes to provide a new impetus for early career scholars’ work in this field. Funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award, the project was launch at a recent workshop at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Over the course of a day, early career academics working in EU employment and labour law – from age and gender discrimination to questions of collective bargaining, public procurement and workers’ fundamental rights – met with a group of Academic Mentors, led by the project mentor, Professor Mark Freedland FBA QC(hon), and Policy Makers from the European Parliament, Commission, and the Court of Justice, as well as the European Trade Union Institute and the Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights.

Eschewing a formal schedule of presentations, the day begin with brief introductions to each early career scholars’ primary areas of interest, followed by policy makers’
overviews of current and future policy priorities for their institutions. On the basis of these outlines, participants then formed small groups for informal discussion of individual projects, allowing for an in-depth engagement on specific questions and the development of detailed outlines for individual projects.

Next Steps

Following the launch workshop, each scholar will collaborate with a senior mentor, in discussion with whom a particular policy proposal or paper can be developed – thus providing early career academics with in-depth insights into the realities of policy making, and making their latest research accessible to senior policy makers. Ongoing work will be published in an online blog, and culminate in presentations to senior academics, policy makers, and social partner representatives at an INLACRIS conference in Cagliari on 17-18 December 2015.

Jeremias Prassl is an Associate Professor at Magdalen College, Oxford, working primarily in the fields of EU and Employment Law. He read law at the Universities of Oxford, Paris, and Harvard Law School. Jeremias’ recent publications include The Concept of the Employer (Oxford University Press 2015) and Viking, Laval and Beyond (2014; with M Freedland), the first volume in his new series EU Law in the Member States (Hart|Bloomsbury, edited with M Bobek).

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