Just as discussions are coming to a head over the future of the European Union's Lisbon Strategy, the European Commission is having to deal with an in-house dispute that could be seen as a microcosm of the Lisbon tensions between economic and social values.

The 43 language teachers the Commission sacked last June are taking the Commission to court for compensation, alleging their social rights were trampled on and dialogue has been denied them.

And their lawyers are adroitly dressing the case in the full regalia of the EU's duty to back the social model that it has created and championed.

The argument turns on whether the teachers were dismissed fairly or unfairly, whether agreements were respected, whether they were adequately consulted, and whether the compensation they were given was adequate.

Defending the Commission's decision in the European Parliament last week, Janez Potocnik claimed the dismissals were fair and breached no agreement, that due consultation took place, and that the compensation was generous.

The teachers' lawyers flatly reject all these claims, and have presented an extensive list of rules the Commission has ignored - ranging from the new Treaty to directives on transfer of undertakings.

To underpin the Commission case, Potocnik invoked the principles of sound financial management and provided figures suggesting that there were overwhelming economic arguments for the...

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