The inter-governmental Agreement of the Eleven, under the Social Protocol, gives the governments' own 'Community' considerably increased competence to act in areas such as, say, working conditions or employee participation arrangements. Further, on these and similar matters, qualified-
majority voting in the Council of Ministers replaces the previous requirement for unanimity.
With the Social Chapter ratified, therefore, there will in fact be a much greater likelihood that companies will find themselves confronted with unlooked-for regulation right across the labour and social affairs field. This would add to costs, destroying jobs, while doing little or nothing to improve working conditions or to encourage better employee relations. Little or nothing because, with the obvious exception of subjects such as genuine health and safety matters, the EC's Social Charter and Social Action Programme have always seemed to have more to do with politics than with real workplace needs.
The opt-out at Maastricht means that the UK employer is, in the first instance, protected from these new threats - at least as far as his domestic activities are concerned. None the less, he awoke the day after Maastricht with mixed feelings akin to those of the explorer who wakes up and discovers that during the night the lions have taken all of his companions.
Relief that he has survived, of course, but concern for the rest of his party with whom he shares considerable inter-dependence. And something of a worry that the lions may come back.
Politicians must address these worries, domestically by continuing to keep the social engineers at bay and by supporting the opt-out, and - more positively - at a community level by encouraging a fundamental review of 'Social Europe' to ensure that where there is a case for legislation - as indeed there will be, from time to time - the resulting proposals sit comfortably with the competitive needs of EC business. There are some welcome signs that such a review is in prospect.
R. H. PRICE