Labour ministers broke up their 7 November 2006 summit with an agreement on working time further away than before. As a result, the British opt-out is there to stay and the Commission will begin infringement proceedings against most member states.
Britain, which is at the helm of the camp wanting to keep the opt-out, got support from most of the ten new member states’ governments. Germany, the country holding the EU Presidency during the first half of 2007, is unlikely to make another attempt to resolve the opt-out issue. Gerd Andres, state secretary in the German ministry of labour and social affairs, said that the opt-out must remain an option, adding: “Social Europe will not perish if we allow exceptions.” Andres is a member of the German Social Democrat party (SPD).
Germany is also one of only two countries unlikely to face an infringement procedure for failing to transpose the ruling of the Court of Justice concerning on-call time in the medical professions. The Court ruled that, under the present directive, this time must be counted as working time. In principle, ministers agreed that, in order to avoid excessive costs for most member states’ health systems, the rules must be changed.
The camp, lead by France, which opposes the UK opt-out, will however not allow for the directive to be amended without a clear timeline for opt-out removal.