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Do we know more about the USA than Europe?

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-chief

Many have become experts on US politics in the past 12 months. A few days ago, Donald Trump left the White House for the last time and Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the USA. The transfer of power also has consequences for the Nordics and Europe.

I had some fun myself recently by taking the US citizenship test. Out of 25 questions about American politics and history, I got 23 right. That is better than 68% of those who have so far taken the test.

Whether that makes me a besserwisser or lesserwisser I don’t know, but I am sure that if the questions had been about European politics I would have made more mistakes. What is the name of the man who took over as CDU party leader in Germany from Angela Merkel on 16 January?

How many know which country holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union? Oh! And don’t mistake it for the Council of Europe! And which country holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers?

In this edition of Nordic Labour Journal, we will no only give you the answer to those two questions. Bengt Rolfer and Gunhild Wallin have also done a great job of figuring out why Nordic trade unions are so opposed to the EU Commission’s proposed directive on minimum wages. Why don’t the Nordic countries, with the exception of Finland, trust assurances that countries with a collective agreement-based wage system will be allowed to keep it?

"The Commission does not quite understand the wide scope of the autonomy that the partners enjoy in Denmark and Sweden. To think anyone but the partners themselves should be deciding whether a collective agreement’s minimum wages are adequate flies in the face of the very foundations of the countries’ collective agreement systems," writes our expert on labour law Kerstin Ahlberg in her analysis on why the minimum wage issue is such a hot potato.

The European Court of Justice has a limited role compared to that of the US Supreme Court. Sometimes the media coverage of the latter seems exaggerated. Even here in Europe, it has been hard for anyone following the news not to notice the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, who was appointed as one of the nine Supreme Court judges before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, or that Amy Coney Barrett became the last of Donald Trump’s candidates to take a seat at the Supreme Court.

How many can, hand on heart, say they know the name of one single judge on the European Court of Human rights or the European Court of Justice? This is not necessarily a drawback.

Legal power is more fragmented in Europe than in the USA. The countries’ own courts have more power than the ones in US states. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg gets the most press, but it is not an EU institution. It oversees the observance of the European Conventions of Human Rights. 

The European Court of Justice has the limited mandate of:

  • controlling the legality of court rulings made by European Union institutions
  • controlling whether member states have upheld their obligations according to EU law
  • interpreting EU law on behalf of national courts

The EFTA court has the same mandate when it comes to the EEA countries – Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein.

In Sweden, the Laval ruling is the best-known ruling from the EU Court. It was debated in Sweden for decades and limited trade union action against companies using posted workers.

“If you adopt a directive, all member states must implement it. That is why it is the EU Court which must also determine how our collective agreements are interpreted,” says Therese Guovelin, First Deputy President of Swedish LO, in her interview about minimum wages.

Creating legislation, making sure it is followed and judging is a never-ending process. Iceland has been strengthening immigrants’ rights in recent years according to MIPEX – an organisation that monitors integration policies in 52 countries.

In Copenhagen, the parliament has decided to impeach former Minister of Integration Inger Støjberg. Does this signal that the Danish immigration debate is at a crossroads?

In recent years, a large part of the labour force has been working from home. But the labour law’s paragraphs on home offices were written a long time ago, before the Corona pandemic. 

They must therefore be updated, argue both employees and trade unions in Norway. 

PS. The man who was elected CDU leader in Germany is called Armin Laschet. He is presumed to become Chancellor when Angela Merkel retires as Germany goes to the polls in September this year. For Europeans it is after all – in normal times – more important to know who governs Germany than the USA.


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