European Integration and the Reform of Social Security in the Accession Countries (1,2)

By Ferge, Zsuzsa | European Journal of Social Quality, January-December 2001 | Go to article overview

European Integration and the Reform of Social Security in the Accession Countries (1,2)


Ferge, Zsuzsa, European Journal of Social Quality


1. The 'European Model'--Assuming it Exists

The "European model" of social protection is nowhere defined yet quite often referred to. Many of its underlying values and constitutive elements are repeatedly spelt out in various documents. Let me recapitulate in a condensed way some of the core values and some of the instruments or building blocks promoting their implementation.

There are basic social values that are never contested. They include the "trinity" of enlightenment and some related values. The Comite des Sages (mandated by the European Commission) prepared a major position paper on the situation of social policy in the Union, implicitly or explicitly referring to Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. It remarked that 'Freedom and the conditions of freedom' are the mirror image of "democracy and development"' (European Commission, 1996: 5). In other words, 'negative freedoms' (civil and political rights) should be enhanced by positive freedoms. The report recognised the importance of a minimum income and strongly advocated it. It also repeatedly emphasised the dangers of increasing inequality. Solidarity and social cohesion seem to remain key values even under the pressures for modernisation: 'The challenge is to align social protection to the new situation without abandoning its core values of solidarity and cohesion' (CEC, 1997: fn.2). Romano Prodi recently subsumed quite a few features of the 'European model': 'Europe needs to project its model of society into the wider world ... the experience of liberating people from poverty, war, oppression and intolerance. We have forged a model of development and continental integration based on the principles of democracy, freedom and solidarity and it is a model that works' (Prodi, 2000a).

A highly developed social protection system is one of the instruments promoting the core values. The Commission affirmed in 1997 that: 'The European social model is valued and should be consolidated. This model is based both on common values and the understanding that social policy and economic performance are not contradictory but mutually reinforcing. Highly developed social protection systems are a major component of this social model' (CEC, 1997: 1).

The French Presidency committed itself to 'the development and improvement of social protection' (Observatoire, 2000). In 2000 the Commission also presented a seminal document, the Report on Social Protection in Europe 1999 (European Commission, 2000). According to the official information about the Report, 'social protection is, more than ever, at the heart of the Community agenda.' (3)

The fight against social exclusion has become a priority issue on the social policy agenda. The European Union, together with the Council of Europe, put the fight against poverty on the agenda in the mid-1970s, and that against social exclusion on the agenda in the 1980s. The efforts have been relatively slight for long, for instance the resources for the antipoverty programmes were rather limited (European Parliament, 1997). From the mid-1990s this situation appears to have changed. Social exclusion has indeed become, in recent years, a primary concern, both at the European and at the Union level. The Council of Europe's 'Human dignity and social exclusion project', widely supported by many member countries of the Union, started in 1995. Recommendation 1355 (1998) of the Council of Europe spells out the ongoing relevance of the problem: 'Poverty and exclusion must not be the price to pay for economic growth and well-being. Today, social exclusion is no longer a marginal problem in Europe: it is a painful and dramatic reality for millions of people.'

Social rights appear to be the foundation of the social protection system--albeit they may be the weakest link in the chain. The Chair of the Comite des Sages affirmed the equal importance of civil rights and social rights: 'Civic rights and social rights are becoming interdependent.

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