EU Intervention in Domestic Labour Law – By P. Syrpis


EU Intervention in Domestic Labour Law , by P. Syrpis ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 2007 , ISBN 9780199277209 ); xxi + 177pp. , £50 hb .

Although the constitutionalizing process behind the Lisbon Treaty appears to have stalled, the European Union's other ‘Lisbon’– the Lisbon Strategy for growth, jobs and competitiveness – proceeds undiminished. This strategy raises important questions about the role of labour law at EU and domestic level and its interaction with other EU policies, which meet a thoughtful response in Phil Syrpis's monograph. Rather than offering an exhaustive account of EU intervention in labour law, Syrpis sets himself the narrower but in fact more ambitious task of theorizing the rationales behind such EU intervention.

Syrpis categorizes the objectives of EU labour law into three distinct rationales – the integrationist, the economic and the social – finding support for this taxonomy in the Treaties. The latter two are relatively straightforward to identify in that while the economic rationale would seem to necessitate measures which improve the performance of the European economy, the social relates to the ‘distribution of the benefits derived from [such] improved economic performance’ (p. 61).

The heart of Syrpis's thesis, however, is that the integrationist rationale is of a different order from the other two, with integration pursued not for its own sake, but as a means by which other, economic and social, goals can be realized. The integrationist rationale is concerned with market building, thus in theory providing space for EU intervention where disparities between national labour law amount to barriers to free movement or to distortions of competition. Here, Syrpis provides a lucid path through the ‘negative integration’ case law of the European Court of Justice, offering a critique of the Dassonville/Keck dichotomy, through the lens of labour law, in considering the appropriate test to determine whether national rules fall within the scope of Community internal market law. Ultimately, he contends that the extreme integrationist position adopted by the ECJ in Dassonville imposes too onerous a burden on Member States to justify national (labour law) rules which may have no more than a marginal impact on integration. In this analysis, Syrpis rightly predicts the impact on labour law of an ‘extreme’ integrationist rationale, namely an intolerance of regulatory diversity in domestic labour law, as witnessed in the decisions in Viking and Laval handed down by the ECJ after the book was published.

Syrpis is ultimately successful in the ambitious task he sets himself. Written in a clear, accessible style and with a strong conceptual framework, this monograph provides a significant contribution to the debate on the logic and limits of the internal market and the importance of carving out a clear commitment to the ‘social’, to provide the EU with a normative centre.