Calls for ‘a more social’ Europe are unjustified

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Calls for Europe to be ‘more social’ are unjustified as there is nothing particularly ‘un-social’ either in the EU at large or the internal market, argues Jacques Pelkmans in a paper for the College of Europe.

The study aims to provide an analytical approach to the “political framing” of the EU’s social aspect. Speculation over the neo-liberal agenda reducing or damaging ‘social Europe’ or painting the political framing of the EU’s social dimension in a negative light only serves to rally voters behind certain parties or coalitions, argues Pelkmans. 

He therefore starts his study by recalling a number of ‘preliminaries’ that one should keep in mind when discussing the social dimension of the internal market. The use of such terms as ‘social Europe’, ‘neo-liberal agenda’ or ‘social dumping’ with a lack of precision in political debate and in the media spread misunderstandings of the Union’s social dimension, believes the author. 

Studying the ‘social acquis’ – spelt out at EU and member state level – reveals that the internal market and the social dimension are finely balanced, notes Pelkmans. 

He draws the following conclusions:

  • It is misleading to assert that the free movement and free establishment of persons are a menace to social achievements in EU member states: For example, the EU has a self-imposed obligation to maintain a high level of social protection, the free movement of workers is severely curtailed, and migration is subject to host countries’ control. 
  • When the EU is largely or entirely absent, this is an expression of what member states want: European social partners, including national associations, do not wish to cede the power that ey have at national level to fragile European procedures, both for historic reasons and a perceived lack of EU-level responsiveness to local issues. 
  • The free movement of persons is too rarely presented as an opportunity,  despite being the spirit of the EC Treaty.

Moreover, the internal market has been discredited by some “social anxieties,” attributed without justification to EU accomplishments or policies, notes the author. For these reasons, the EU social dimension is complex to read, he adds. 

A proper understanding of these complexities among political and social leaders has to form the basis of responsible and constructive behaviour for the good of European integration and the social merits of national arrangements, concludes the author. 

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