The European Union has had a social agenda since the early days of the European Economic Community (EEC), argues Joachim Fritz-Vannahme, director of European projects at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, in a November paper.
Even during early decades of European integration, the EEC was "pursuing social policies [...] on a very large scale," Fritz-Vannahme argues.
Taking the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as an example, the paper argues that it is a social policy in the sense that it aims to "raise the [bloc's] level of agricultural productivity, supply consumers with sufficient food stuffs at reasonable prices and ensure appropriate incomes in the agricultural sector".
EU structural and cohesion policies, which support Europe's poorest regions, also "amount to social policy inasmuch as we are dealing with a classical policy of redistribution," argues Fritz-Vannahme.
Furthermore, the policy priorities set by the Lisbon agenda, which aims to make the EU the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world, presuppose "social changes", the author insists. Some of the Lisbon aims include reaching "the employment quota of 70 per cent of the EU population," ensuring that "one in two workers over the age of 50 have a job" and "increasing the proportion of working women," he observes.
"Thus, whoever wants a competitive knowledge society cannot dodge the issue of a social Europe," Fritz-Vannahme claims.
The policy drive towards a social Europe is also supported by polls indicating that Europeans are "not interested in competitiveness". "They are merely concerned about the security of their workplace and of their savings," the author maintains.
At the same time, however, Fritz-Vannahme admits that "solidarity in a welfare state presupposes a minimum 'team spirit' or co-responsibility".
Defining European solidarity is "just as important for our future as the question of defining the right kind of economic and social governance for Europe," his paper concludes.