On 25 January 2006, the negotiating teams of BusinessEurope (formerly UNICE) /UEAPME, CEEP and CES agreed on a second work programme for the period 2006-2008. The aim of the EU`s second social dialogue programme was to promote growth, employment and the modernisation of the European social model. The 2006-2008 work programme also included the conclusion of two “autonomous” framework agreements similar to those related to telework and work-related stress. A framework agreement was harassment and violence in the workplace (signed on 26 April 2007); the other agreement will cover either disadvantaged workers or lifelong learning. As far as terminology is concerned, the social partners have decided to maintain the concept of a `voluntary agreement` for previous agreements (telework and stress), but to move on to the concept of `autonomous agreements` for future European framework agreements. See also collective agreements as a mechanism for enforcing EU law; European social dialogue and the implementation of the agreements; Common opinions Stress at work. Since the 1990s, the EU has developed a new regulatory policy that increasingly focuses on the use of alternative instruments that complement traditional legislation. These alternative instruments, less restrictive or non-governmental, are often characterized by the terms “soft law,” “self-regulation” and/or “co-regulation.” “Voluntary agreements” are the typical result of these alternative forms of governance. The main objective of the diversification of regulatory instruments was to improve the efficiency, legitimacy and transparency of EU action and to respect the principles of delegated powers, subsidiarity and proportionality in the EU legislative process.
In the CONTEXT of the EU, the term `voluntary agreement` generally refers to an agreement which is not the result of a political decision-making process exclusively within the framework of the official EU institutions (European Commission, Council of the European Union, European Parliament – i.e. the so-called Community method), but mainly the result of negotiations between organisations of legitimate social partners to reach such agreements through EU legislation. The main failure of a voluntary agreement is that they are not enshrined in EU law. These “autonomous agreements” are “voluntary” because they are concluded with or without the Commission`s initiative, but cannot be implemented by the method of a Council decision under Article 155, paragraph 2, of the EUSVER, although they are “implemented under this provision … specific procedures and procedures applicable to social partners and Member States.”