The Socioeconomic Structure
of The European Union
Eleftherios N. Botsas
Socioeconomic structure is usually defined in terms of social arrangements with respect to ownership and control of the productive resources, and their allocation in the production of goods and services. The dominant arrangement in the European Union (EU) is that of the market mechanism with varying degrees of social control by the national governments. The degree of control varies according to divergence between private and social costs and benefits as well as the aims of the authorities to achieve certain social goals with respect to education, health, income distribution, and work environment. However, the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty attempt to reduce, if not eliminate, national differences in fundamental policies that are viewed as common interest to the Union although there are vast differences in the social and economic structures of the members.
The original Six had very similar economic structures. The first enlargement added two similar countries—Denmark and the United Kingdom—and one dissimilar country, Ireland. The second and third enlargements added three peripheral countries. Thus the Union's structure became more diverse while undergoing more intensive integration.
A complete treatment of the arrangements and the search for an optimum structure that will move the Union to the frontiers of social welfare is beyond the scope of this chapter, which is limited to an examination of the basic structures of the economies by looking into the three main economic sectors: agriculture, industry, and services. The sectoral differences among the members have been determined by varied historical experiences and resource endowments, but the trend of economic history has been one of shifts from agriculture to industry to services.