The right to disconnect: Winners and losers of the EP decisions

During the latest plenary session, a strong majority of MEPs called on the Commission to legislate on the right to disconnect. However, while there does seem to be broad support across EU political families for such an initiative, a deeper analysis reveals significant divisions within the EPP and Renew Europe groups, in particular with regards to MEPs from North-Western Europe, and especially among Swedish, Dutch and Danish. These MEPs either abstained or voted against the European Parliament’s call to introduce a legislative EU-wide framework on remote working, as well as on enshrining the right to disconnect into law. This indicates that such proposals are going to be less positively received in the Council, where a few concerned Member States are likely to object to such an expansion of the EU’s legislative remit. 

Importantly, this debate confirms an important trend previously identified by VoteWatch on other social policy issues. North-Western members of the EPP and Renew Europe groups tend to be  more opposed to “Europeanisation” as far as social policies are concerned, as the following graph illustrates:

The red dots stand for Renew Europe MEPs who voted negatively on the proposal to introduce a permanent European unemployment reinsurance scheme. These MEPs mainly come from the German, Dutch, Swedish, and Danish delegations. Since the introduction of a European unemployment mechanism would be based on common financing by Member States, these Renew Europe members oppose the idea of subsidising the welfare system of EU countries with weaker economies.

Importantly, their positions in the graph show that this is not only an isolated case, as their relatively low scores on the x-axis imply that these parties are among the most critical of the overall policy framework aimed at social policy harmonisation (not only when money is concerned).

For more explanations on MEPs’ overall standings on social policy, check out our new influence policy matrix here.

  

Remote work: centrist MEPs from most affected countries among the most critical ones

When looking at individual votes, there has been overall strong support (except for ECR and ID groups) to present a legislative framework establishing minimum requirements for remote work in the EU. The EPP, however, found it difficult to maintain its cohesion, as the Dutch, Swedish and Danish delegations all voted against the proposal. A similar division occurs in the S&D group, where the Swedish delegation did not support the establishment of a legislative framework on remote work. The Renew group is the most divided, with MEPs from the Swedish, Danish or German delegations (amongst others) voting against their group and thus opposing the proposal to introduce a legislative framework on minimum standards for remote workers across the EU.

Interestingly, the countries of these MEPs have the highest increase in the percentage of home-based workers as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, as the following graph shows:

Source: Eurofound, LFS 2019 and Online Survey Wave April 2020

This indicates that these countries’ highly digitalised economies would be among the most affected by the new rules, while another possible explanation could be that some of the Dutch, Swedish and Danish MEPs have mixed feelings about the EU interfering in their national labor policies, and would instead prefer their national governments to remain the sole “protectors” of their citizens when it comes to employment. Delegating their social policies to the European institutions could be seen, to some extent, as a loss of national sovereignty by some of these MEPs. British MEPs used to support such an approach, showing how Brexit drastically weakened the opposition to EU-driven social policy harmonisation. 

To see how each individual MEP voted on this proposal, click here.

Right to disconnect: Swedish and Dutch among the most opposed to enshrining this principle into EU law

Another interesting vote concerns a request to the European Commission, calling for a proposal to enshrine the right to disconnect into a legal act. As in the above case, there was wide support among MEPs (if we exclude the ECR and ID groups).

 

Taking a closer look into the voting behavior of the EPP and Renew Group, the same divisions seem to take place. Within the EPP Group the Dutch, Swedish and Danish delegations were the most critical of the proposal to introduce an EU act on the right to disconnect. Once again, the opinions were rather diverse within the Renew group, with many MEPs from Northern Europe voting negatively on this proposal.

 

Once again, MEPs from the mainstream groups who have voted negatively on this proposal generally come from Northern Europe, as the above map reveals. However, it is also important to note that concerns are also visible among key governing parties from the Visegrad region (especially the Czech and the Polish), which will further complicate the debate in the Council. To see how each individual MEP voted on this vote, click here.

Background

With several social initiatives put forward for 2021, looking into the political forces in play and different positions can prove to be very insightful. In fact, the debate on the right to disconnect from this week’s plenary has confirmed several trends previously identified by VoteWatch. Similar to the debates on unemployment and minimum salaries at the EU level, we can observe that MEPs from North-Western Europe as being more hostile to social policy initiatives at the EU level. This could result in difficulties in the Council, as some of the divisions take place at the national level rather than the political one.

Are you interested in EU social policy? Find our new policy matrix here and uncover which MEPs can help you advance your agenda.