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Denmark and Sweden’s EU dilemma over minimum wages

| Text: Kerstin Ahlberg, EU & Arbetsrätt

Should the government go to the EU Court of Justice to have the directive on adequate minimum wages in the European Union nullified? That question is now being debated in Denmark and Sweden after the directive was adopted with an overwhelming majority. But it is far from given that any of the two countries’ governments will take action.

Denmark and Sweden were the only countries to vote against the directive when it was adopted on 4 October. The Danish government also made a statement in the protocol underlining that it appreciated the efforts of different presidencies to accommodate Denmark’s concerns, but that it could not support the directive out of principle. Sweden had made a similar statement at an earlier meeting of the Council. 

The question is what will happen now.

Voices in the Danish trade union movement immediately called for the Danish government to bring the issue before the EU Court of Justice to try to nullify the directive. The rationale being that the EU has overstepped its competence because one treaty rule clearly says that the Union cannot adopt directives covering wage issues.

In Sweden, the social partners have been conspicuously quiet after the adoption of the directive. Researchers, however, have argued that the government ought to take the case to the EU Court of Justice.  

This would have to happen within two months after the directive is published in the EU’s official journal. However, it is not at all clear whether this will happen. Now, the issue is about politics and not simply a legal matter. Nobody yet knows what kind of government Denmark will have after elections on 1 November, nor what that government will do. 

Sweden also has just got a new government that has a lot of other things on its plate. For Sweden, matters are even more complicated since the country takes on the presidency of the EU on 1 January 2023.

It is considered good manners that a member state taking on the presidency tones down its own interests to the benefit of what is important for the EU as a whole. 

It would surely be seen as a gross provocation if the government went to the EU Court of Justice in this situation to basically ”sue” its colleagues in all of the other member states.

Time will tell.


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