The COE restricted its analysis to ten countries : Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Its aim was to clarify the background and relevant issues in each country where reforms have been enacted.
Working from existing data bases, most notably those of the European Commission and the International Labour Organisation, the COE ran an initial quantitative analysis of the reforms carried out in Europe.
It then identified several common broad patterns. To different degrees and with different intensities, depending on factors such as the starting point of each labour market, the reforms undertaken have all revolved around some key themes :
- a general loosening up of laws on employment contracts, substantial for permanent jobs, less so for temporary or atypical work ;
- decentralisation of collective bargaining and greater flexibility for organisations ;
- pursuit of wage restraint and reduction of labour costs, the recent introduction or upgrading of national minimum wages in some countries ;
- unemployment insurance and social security systems that incentivise return to work and are often open to more people ;
- a drive for efficiency savings in public employment services and the reinvigoration of active labour market polices.
The reforms considered in this report are mostly recent, which makes it hard to evaluate their effects as yet. Wherever possible, the council finally drew up initial feedback on outcomes of the reform process in three issues : effect on employment and unemployment, economic competitiveness, inequality and poverty.
The report is made up of a cross-country analysis and ten individual monographs.