Managing European social policymaking

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

“Finding the right mixture of European and national decision-making is key to a fair and efficient social policy for the twenty-first century,” write Andrej Stuchlík and Christian Kellermann, researchers at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), a German think tank, in a January paper.

The paper recalls that the European Commission’s Renewed Social Agenda, which outlines a framework for European social policies in the areas of employment and social affairs, education and youth, health care and the information society, is a highly contentious issue.

Some believe it “does not go far enough,” whilst others “criticise it for gratuitously increasing the role of the EU,” Stuchlík and Kellermann declare. Given such lack of consensus, it seems that the European social dimension “will continue to be the subject of much political infighting,” the authors say. 

EU social policy “finds itself between a rock and a hard place,” they add. 

On the one hand, Stuchlík and Kellerman say “regulatory competition between member states concerning social standards is increasing, and as a result nation states are losing control and the ability to solve problems”. 

On the other hand, “conflicting interests are preventing possible agreement on the Europeanisation of certain areas of social policy, even where potential benefits might be expected in terms of efficiency and equity,” they state. 

These different positions can be explained by the fact that member states have “different welfare state models” and are either “net contributors or net recipients of substantive social policy in the EU,” the researchers say. 

Moreover, the paper claims that the social dimension “does not have to be enhanced through Europe,” explaining that “protecting and increasing the scope of national social policy is one way of bringing about more equity and efficiency in the EU”. 

The authors assert that “homogenisation, not harmonisation, of welfare outcomes should be the goal of European social policy”. 

Nevertheless, they insist that it should be “conditional upon constitutional and discursive parity of the market in the European Union”. 

“Economic and social policy are not irreconcilable, but complementary parts of a European social market economy that understands social policy as a productive, not a cost factor,” the paper concludes. 

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