Τετάρτη, 23 Ιανουαρίου 2008

The European Social Model

Του Αγίου

One of the most controversial concepts in the framework of the EU is the, so called, European Social Model (ESM). This catchword appears to gain step- by- step a comprehensive description among the European governments and the European institutions, although its crystallization as a model in the cognitive system of Europeans is very fluid as yet. The multi-level European leadership uses this term in order to describe the European experience of simultaneously promoting sustainable economic growth and social cohesion. This approach of the economic parameters in social terms is evident in the Commissioner J. Almunia’s words: “…we need to be able to faster economic and social reforms aimed at greater economic flexibility and more adjustment capacity, while achieving better social protection and social cohesion”

Accordingly, the use of the concept of ESM in academic and political debate is characterized by three main and interconnected features: the usually taken-for-granted assumption of the reality of the concept - the reality called ‘Europe’ becomes a naturally occurring phenomenon; the highly ambiguous and polymorphismic nature of this concept – ESM is at the same time political, social, cultural and economic, without a (holistic) theory behind it; the cause-nexus relationship between economic criteria – economic flexibility, market adjustment etc, and social phenomena – poverty, social exclusion etc. So, we should not be surprising ever since a clear definition of what constitutes its essence seems to be lacking in most documents on the subject, while a review of some of the most important of these EU or/and governmental documents reveals that, insofar as definitions are to be found, they do not necessarily converge.

Hence, the scientific approach of the ESM can not be evaluated as comparative political analysis, since there is a lack of a scientific concept in which dependent and independent variables could be defined. Furthermore, according to M. Radaelli, “concepts that are not well-defined lead to confusion and illusive language. Concepts that do not specify the level of analysis generate mistakes in terms of the ladder of the abstraction”.

That is why the ESM is more or less a political idea as well as a political artefact and not a scientific concept. However, in the extent, in which it is a productive idea in terms of policy-making, we have not to loose the chance to focus on its impact on the social modernity, by facing ESM as a politico-ideological concept.

For that reason, and in order to understand the construction of the ESM, as it is the main ‘Europeanized idea’ influencing the policy-making and the legitimation of it on the national and regional social systems, it is necessary to focus on the general (universal) frame in which it has been approached by the Commission.

In this aspect, the European Social Model is an abstract definition of a common set of values which are on the basis of the EU. These values are freedom, democracy, equality, solidarity and openness, and have inspired, at least, the rhetoric of the social systems of all the EU-Member States. While these systems differ from one another in their practical design, they have common features and reflect – in a different degree - those values. They all involve government intervention in order –at least in principle -to reduce poverty and social exclusion, anticipating distribution of income, providing social insurance and promoting equality of opportunity (see Social Protection Committee, 2003). Obviously, the exercise of social policy remains in the hands of the national governments, at least in terms of accountability, as they posses less and less economic (fiscal) means in order to finance their welfare states.

Strictly speaking, there is no ‘Model’ at all in the framework of European social policy and even not a single ‘policy’. So, it seems better to speak about a frame of European principles towards a Social Model, and instead of ‘policy’ it is more precise to put it down in the plural form ‘policies’.

Then, what is the European Social Model practically (operationally)?

The answer from the former Commissioner A.Diamantopoulou sounds like a clinching argument: “it is a productive factor in achieving strong economic performance. In the European social model, social policy is economic policy”.

This argument has not been astricted within the limits of the Commission. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stresses the need for a new ‘social market economy’, and explains: “The most dignified market and social economy needs to believe in the mature citizen that can exercise responsible freedom to translate innovative ideas into action”.

Thus, it is evident that the mainstream of political thought in the EU tends to address market economy and society as the two sides of the coin. In other words they do not distinguish between market economy and welfare system. On the contrary, they put both phenomena in the same boat under the title ‘Social Market Economy’.

In fact, this new political depiction tends to substitute the term ESM more and more by globalizing the European social dimension. In this framework the responsibility on the social protection appears to be moving from the nation-state to the individuals. Now, as Hemerijck and Berghman argue, the great effort that a large amount of scholars have been shown by identifying the ESM in terms of the national welfare systems seems out of the political question, since the tendency through the European Social Agenda points in connecting welfare diversity within the ESM.

It also seems problematic if one sees economic policy as supranational while welfare policies remain national.

Indeed, the social reality in a welfare European state is both quantified and qualified determining by the integration of the internal market and monetary union. The public sector of the EU-Member States is unable to design the social future of them by itself, because of the limitations of the Stability and Growth Pact as well as the Single European Act. Obviously, in the current reality Member States have greatly lost the capacity to influence their own economies and respectively to realize self-defined social goals.

The principle under which social-policy takes place is well-described in the European Agenda of social policy-making: “Europe’s employment and social policies go hand in hand with its economic policies and are a vital component of its modernizing agenda…The challenge facing us now is to continue the efforts to modernize our social model, which is based on economic and social progress” (Social Policy Agenda, June 2003).

Hence, there is no doubt that nowadays there is no historical causality that creates the conditions for building national welfare states, as the result of the competitive between labour and capital.

In the contemporary globalized European environment with an increasingly mobile capital and a fast growing service technology as well as the more weakening labour market, it seems there is only a little force for a national social policy. In this framework the ESM through the Lisbon Strategy comes not to support the welfare systems of the Member States, but rather to create another absorption and culture among the European population in terms of socio-economic values and behaviours as well as conditions of life.

I argue that ‘Lisbon’ is a landmark in the history of Europe, not so much in policy-making terms, but in cultural ones. For the first time officially recognized - implicitly but clearly enough - the existence of a European society, as it is noted: “the European Council of Lisbon recognised that the extent of poverty and social exclusion is unacceptable and considered the building of a more inclusive European Union as one of the essential components in achieving strategic objectives such as sustainable economic growth, increased employment and improved social cohesion. The Lisbon Summit agreed to adopt an Open Method of Coordination (OMC), in order to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty and social exclusion by 2010”.

Thus, for the first time a cosmopolitan Europeanization expressed officially by arguing that the EU’s space includes and reflects a common system of values – not only interests - that distinguishes it from other politico-economic and social formations. In this EU’s social space Member States should coordinate their social-policy so that social cohesion could be effective within the EU, by regulating the mixture of each national or/and regional social-policy. In this context, the key coordinates of ESM, as they are specialized by the OMC, are formulated in universalistic terms rather than in the specifics of welfare targets and redistributive mechanisms (Prodi, 2004).

Hence, a European cosmopolitanism characterizes the ESM, which appears as a promoter of a “moral framework for globalization based on solidarity and sustainable development” (European Council, Laeken, 2001).

Addressing this reality G. Delanty and Ch.Rumford argue that EU aims to manage globalization in this historic moment by safeguarding and promoting the blend of market and non-market values involved in the ESM, since otherwise the whole system would be under threat from the expansion of unregulated capitalism.

Thus, ESM is the Europeanized intervention to the current phase of globalization, which is tending more and more to take unregulated dimensions treating the entire post-bipolar global system.

Hence, I could identify ESM as an inventive European idea of social-agenda setting – an analytical artefact - intending to blend economic growth and social justice at an acceptable level throughout the EU’s welfare regimes.

This approach leads to the constructivist interpretation of the ESM as a European cosmopolitan context, in which new management instruments – see OMC – are developed, serving the transition of the European society from the industrial era to the information epoch, or as some others like to term from the modern to post-modern aeon.

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