Throughout the years the European Commission (EC) and the ILO have progressively intensified their cooperation. This ILO-EC cooperation dates from 1958 and was set up immediately following the establishment of the European Economic Community. The partnership between the two institutions continuously enlarged, keeping pace with the evolution of the responsibilities, policies and activities of the EC, the emergence of the EU as a global player and the convergence of the strategic objectives and values of the EU and the ILO.
The European Commission and the ILO signed a renewed exchange of letters in 2021, updating the framework for their longstanding cooperation. This is the third formal agreement, following previous exchanges of letters in 1989 and 2001.
Since 2002, the ILO and the Commission hold annual high-level meetings.
In 2003, the ILO adhered to a financial and administrative framework agreement (FAFA) governing financial and administrative matters between the United Nations and the EC. In 2004, the ILO and the EU signed a strategic partnership concerning development cooperation. The EU is a major global player in international development assistance. The EU's development work is divided between several Directorate-Generals (DG) of the European Commisssion. The ILO-Brussels Office maintains close contacts with those that have areas of common interest with the ILO. These include:
- DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG Employment), which has the task of contributing to the development of a modern, innovative and sustainable European Social Model with more and better jobs in an inclusive society based on equal opportunities.
- DG for International Partnerships (DG INTPA), responsible for formulating the EU's development policy and delivering aid through programmes and projects across the world.
- DG for Trade (DG TRADE), in charge of implementing the common trade policy of the European Union.
- DG for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), which assists those countries with a perspective to join the EU - the Western Balkans and Turkey in particular.