The European Semester – the EU’s annual process of economic and social policy coordination – has major implications for education systems and their workers. On 1 October 2019, in Brussels, ETUCE worked with EPSU to organise the conference “Public Service Trade Unions – Effective Intervention in the European Semester”. This was the conclusion of a joint project to investigate the impact of the European Semester on public services and education and the role played by public service trade unions.

In the audience were over 60 representatives from trade unions in the public sector and in education. They were keen to discuss their current and potential impact on the European Semester and to learn from colleagues in other parts of the EU. During the event the participants heard about new research from the project partners, the University of Nottingham and the European Social Observatory (OSE), carried out over the past two years and supported by case studies from Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy and Latvia. Representatives of the European Commission and employers’ organisations also joined us.

Professor Howard Stevenson of the University of Nottingham presented the research, which analyses the Semester cycles of 2017-18 and 2018-2019. He stressed how relevant the Semester is for trade unions. The Semester might initially appear to be technocratic paperwork, but it is a highly political process with real impact on education and on public services in general and their workers.

The research findings and case studies revealed that there is nothing like a homogenous European Semester process – there are 28 different approaches. However, there are also issues that can be seen across the EU. For example, one of the major burdens of the Semester process is its tight timescale, which can limit the quality of responses and the debate between social partners.

Overall, the trade unions reported that social dialogue within the European Semester often stays on a shallow level. However, a clear trade union influence can be identified in the cases where there is a more meaningful approach to social dialogue.

Trade unions can also take action to increase their impact, for example by forming alliances on the national and European levels to reinforce their positions. Indeed, a more coherent and coordinated approach from the trade unions would complement the researchers’ recommendation to open the Semester up to more stakeholders. This would create more public interest in the Semester and thus mobilise more contributions to the process.

The conference ended with a panel debate chaired by Bart Vanhercke (OSE) and featuring Paola Cammilli (ETUCE), Jan Willem Goudriaan (EPSU), Daniel Wisniewski of European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE), Leonard Ebner of the local government employers (CEMR) and Filip Tanay of the unit for coordination of the European Semester in the European Commission's DG Employment. Social partners pointed out that the concrete results of the European Semester will contribute to the involvement of national trade unions. European social partners should support this transformation by building capacity.

The final report produced in the project will be released soon, but you can see the presentations on the general research and four of the case studies here: