Parliament: “No alternative” to reforming social model

The Parliament adopted, with a broad majority, its own-initiative report on a European Social Model for the future.

The rapporteurs chose something of a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach, stressing what the main political camps can agree to, without touching on any of the hot issues. In their report, they say that the European social model, in spite of the differences in social systems, “is first and foremost a question of values”. They add that all European systems share “values of equality, non discrimination and solidarity and redistribution as fundamentals, with universal, free or cheap access to education and healthcare, and a variety of other public services as the right of a citizen and as essential to creating the basis for a successful modern economy and a fair society”. They say that “[it] is in this respect that our European model differs from the US model for instance”.

At the same time, the report stresses “that there is no alternative to urgently reforming economic and social systems where they fail to meet the criteria of efficiency and socially sustainable development, and where they are inadequate to tackle the challenges of demographic change, globalisation and the IT revolution”. The Parliament “is fully aware that employment and social policy remain broadly within national competence, but stresses that the EU also has competences in this field”. 

The Parliament adopted the report with a broad majority of 507 votes against 113 (42 abstentions). 

Irish Socialist MEP Proinsias De Rossa, one of the report's two co-rapporteurs, said in the Plenary: "This report is a restatement that Europe’s core values of equality, solidarity, redistribution and anti-discrimination, care for the young, the old and the sick through universal public provision must be defended in the necessary reforms already under way; that our social model is not an obstacle to competitiveness and growth but is, in fact, a necessary ingredient if we are to deliver the kind of decent European society that our citizens clearly desire; and that the concept of ‘flexicurity’, pioneered by my colleague Mr Rasmussen in Denmark, can help facilitate reforms by preventing people from tumbling into poverty as a result and can, if properly tailored to each Member State’s needs, be an important tool in the process."  

Liberal MEP Elizabeth Lynne said: "I have severe reservations as regards talking about a European social model at all. I know we have common goals, but we do not have common systems across Member States – as other people have mentioned – to achieve those goals. Neither, I believe, should we have, hence my concerns...I would not like it to be thought, if this report is passed, that we want to work towards a one-size-fits-all European social model, instead of respecting the diversity that we have at the moment. Common social objectives, yes; a common social model, no."  

Green MEP Sepp Kusstatscher said: "The most severe social problems - extreme poverty, discrimination of immigrants, the tough fate of the long-term unemployed - are merely being adumbrated in the document. Inequality and injustice are not being pinpointed as severely as they should be. This is the fault of the otherwise positive principle of subsidiarity. If the so-called economic harmonisation is taken for granted, the EU ought to be positive also on social harmonisation - starting with an approximation of taxes and including a discussion on minimum incomes, basic incomes and citizens'  remuneration - and in particular in the pension system."

ETUC, the European Trade Union Federation, said: "The European Social Model is a vision of society that combines sustainable economic growth with ever-improving living and working conditions. This implies full employment, good quality jobs, equal opportunities, social protection for all, social inclusion and involving citizens in the decisions that affect them.

In the ETUC’s view, social dialogue, collective bargaining and workers’ protection are crucial factors in promoting innovation, productivity and competitiveness. This is what distinguishes Europe, where post-war social progress has matched economic growth, from the US model, where small numbers of individuals have benefited at the expense of the majority. Europe must continue to sustain this social model as an example for other countries around the world."

Social models in Europe are, despite all the differences between them, quite distinct from those established on other continents. They are regarded as a core factor of European prosperity and saving them in times of sluggish growth and growing populations has become a major challenge.

Recent papers, the most influential of which was André Sapir's Globalisation and the Reform of European Social Models, published on 9 September 2005, suggest that there are four types of social models in Europe: Continental, Mediterranean, Nordic and Anglo-Saxon. Within the past two years, the Nordic model has received attention because it manages to unite high flexibility of the workforce with a high degree of social security. The model has thus been dubbed 'flexicurity'. 

Following discussions at the Hampton Court Summit in October 2005 and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's June 2005 speech to the Parliament under the British Presidency, the Parliament decided to draft an own-initiative report on an "European social model for the future". Proinsias de Rossa (PSE) and José Albino Silva Peneda (PPE-DE) were jointly nominated as rapporteurs for the Employment and Social Affairs committee. 

LEGISLATION TRACKER: See OEIL 

Read this article in Czech  (EURACTIV.cz).

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