European integration and the commodification of labour market institutions

A comparative analysis of recent EU interventions in Italy, Ireland and Switzerland

Vincenzo Maccarrone, University College Dublin
Roland Erne, University College Dublin

The literature about the effects of the European integration process on labour and labour relations can broadly be divided into two opposing camps. On the one side, there are those who associate the European integration process with an overarching, transnational liberalisation trajectory (Baccaro & Howell 2017). On the other side, there are those who are detecting diverging, country specific, trajectories at work. Pulignano (2018), for example, acknowledges a growing commodification of labour in the EU’s periphery, not least given the imposition of the “structural reforms” championed by the Eurozone’s New Economic Governance (NEG) regime. At the same time, however, she is also emphasising the relative stability of de-commodifying labour institutions in affluent North-Western European countries, notably Denmark, which is not subject to the constraints and conditionalities of the Eurozone’s NEG regime. In a similar vein, Afonso, Fontana and Papadopoulos (2010), for example, showed that in the case of Switzerland, further integration into the European single market led, until very recently, to an astonishing decommodification of Swiss labour market institutions. This assessment, however, might no longer be true.

In this paper we therefore conduct a comparative qualitative analysis of the strikingly similar labour market liberalisation requests of the European Commission in relation to the Irish, Italian and Swiss labour market institutions issued in very different institutional contexts. These include the Commission’s commodifying NEG prescriptions for Ireland and Italy (2010-2018), i.e. a large and a small Eurozone country, which are in the (semi-) periphery of the Eurozone. In addition, however, we are also analysing the Commission requests to liberalise the Swiss labour market institutions during the ongoing negotiations for an EU Switzerland “Institutional framework agreement”, which aims to cementing future ties between Switzerland and its biggest trading partner. This case selection is innovative as it allows us to assess if the Commission’s labour market liberalisation requests are linked predominately to Eurozone membership and the relative peripheral location of a country in European supply and production chains, or simply the EU’s new single market logic as expressed in the ECJ judgments in the Laval quartet.

  • Afonso, A., Fontana, M. C., & Papadopoulos, Y. (2010). Does Europeanisation weaken the Left? Changing coalitions and veto power in Swiss decision-making processes. Policy & Politics, 38(4), 565-582.
  • Baccaro, L., & Howell, C. (2017). Trajectories of Neoliberal Transformation: European Industrial Relations Since the 1970s. Cambridge University Press.
  • Pulignano, V (2018), “Social Dialogue between Continuity and Discontinuity”. Presentation at the WSI Herbstforum 2018: Interessenvertretung der Zukunft. Berlin, 20 November 2018.