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European social model(s) and social Europe

Catherine Mathieu () and Henri Sterdyniak ()

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Abstract: There seems to be a broad consensus in Europe that there is a European Social Model (ESM), typical of European societies and that this model should be protected and developed. But the ESM is an ambiguous notion: is it a simple description of the actual state of European societies? Is this a normative concept? Is it consistent with contemporary evolution marked by economic globalization and liberalization? Is this a political project? Section 1 provides an assessment of 'the European Social Model'. This model has different patterns among EU-15 countries. The generally adopted classification (Esping-Andersen, 1990) sets out four social models in Europe: liberal, continental, Scandinavian and Mediterranean. Are the four models variants of a single ESM? Section 2 compares their economic and social performances. The best economic performances are obtained by the Liberals and the Scandinavian countries; Scandinavian countries have also the best social performance. The economic performances of continental model countries are poor. Are they condemned to evolue to the liberal model, or can they move towards the Scandinavian model? Can this model be implemented in all larger open, heterogeneous and with high unemployment countries? Section 3 discusses the need to adapt the ESM to new economic and social challenges: the ageing of populations, the rising trend in health spending, the change in family structures, the rising trend in social exclusion, the persistence of mass unemployment in some countries, of low fertility rates in some others. The section presents the actual debates, national or European, about reforms of pension system, health system, unemployment benefits, family policy and anti-poverty flight. Section 4 presents the actual situation of 'Social Europe'. This expression may refer to the current actions of European Institutions. It may also refer to a political project: increasing gradually the level of Europe's intervention in social fields. But the objective may be to 'modernise social protection', i.e. to reduce its field and costs, or on the contrary to progressively implement common social norms in all Member States in order to reach a high and similar social protection level. The single market makes it more and more difficult for national protection systems to coexist. The respective roles of national and European institutions in the evolution of the ESM (or ESMs) are discussed. The current European strategy - the social Agenda and the Open method of coordination (OMC) - remains disconnected from national debates and reforms. Can they become more democratic and more powerful? The conclusion presents two views on the future of the ESM. The first suggests a new architecture of welfare states in Europe, inspired by the Scandinavian model, so the impact of social protection as a productive factor increases. The second stresses the importance of guaranteeing social cohesion in the Member States, by reducing income inequalities and ensuring a high level of social protection. Yet, the improvement of the European economic framework and the development of the Social Europe are not technical issues. They require a major change in the economic policy thinking and a new alliance between social classes concerned about full employment and social cohesion.

Date: 2008-04
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