Social Europe a Policy Too Far?

European Social Policy, May 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

Social Europe a Policy Too Far?


With the institutional question back on everyone's agenda, it seems appropriate to look at the one issue sidelined by the Convention on the Future of Europe, the social question. Those who followed the Convention back in 2002-2003 will recall that a working group on the issue was only set up in extremis. Even then, its work was reduced to the tip of the iceberg. Little surprise then that it yielded nothing of note. And yet discussions focused largely on this part of the Treaty in France and the Netherlands, the two countries that have thus far rejected the Constitution.

Is the same mistake not now being repeated with efforts focused on cobbling together institutional solutions without addressing real substantive issues?

One can indeed but acknowledge that with just a few exceptions, there is no political drive to forge ahead with a social Europe. The issue of social models is widely debated but nothing of note emerges from these discussions, EU institutions and the majority of member states parroting the standard line that "it's not possible owing to the subsidiarity principle". Yet it is not so much a case of renegotiating the Treaties and finding new legal bases, as of giving fresh impetus to the social dimension.

To take up an image dear to the European Commission's captain Jose Manuel Barroso, football players on the bench should stop discussing tactics and get on the field and score a goal, or at least try to do so.

A PROTECTIVE SOCIETY

Five avenues might be worth exploring:

Firstly, there is risk of turning into a dependent society. The increasing number of elderly citizens requires a new response in terms of social aid, assistance, and scope for combining work with care for the elderly. Why not study an overall EU framework to which each member state might subscribe before individual governments draft their own legislation? Why not consider a supranational dependency fund to manage funds not spent at EU level, for instance? …

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