Divergence Not Convergence. the Strengthening of the Post-Communist Welfare State Model in Central and Eastern Europe after European Union Expansion

By Piotrowska, Katarzyna; Rae, Gavin | Polish Sociological Review, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Divergence Not Convergence. the Strengthening of the Post-Communist Welfare State Model in Central and Eastern Europe after European Union Expansion


Piotrowska, Katarzyna, Rae, Gavin, Polish Sociological Review


Comparing Welfare States

A common approach to the welfare state, in post-War Western Europe, was the idea that it was part of the extension of citizens' rights into the sphere of social rights (Marshall 1992). This was often seen as a continuation of society's double movement against the commodification of areas of economic and social life, first described by Karl Polanyi (1944). The Power Resource Theory encapsulated such an approach to the welfare state, believing that the relative differences between welfare states could be understood by the strength of a country's social democratic parties and trade unions (Korpai 1985). Esping-Andersen's (1993) classic approach to comparing different welfare states expanded this approach, combining the concepts of double movement, social rights and (de)commodification.

Esping-Andersen stated that the introduction of social rights weakened the commodification of labour and argued that if rights were to be universal then this inevitably means creating areas of socio-economic life that are decommodified. For Esping-Andersen a cru cial test for a welfare state is whether someone is able to maintain a 'socially acceptable standard of living,' when they are not engaged in productive work. This is determined by such things as the level and availability of unemployment benefits, paid maternity/paternity leave, free universal healthcare, education, pensions and so on. The decommodification of labour occurs if these are universally available to all irrespective of one's market position; and also when they are of a sufficient high quality and standard to satisfy the needs of the whole of society. Using this yardstick, Esping-Andersen developed three ideal types of social welfare systems. Esping-Andersen did not believe that any of these welfare systems actually existed in their pure form, but that they are useful models for comparing and contrasting the welfare states of different countries:

- Liberal Welfare States (e.g. the UK)-these are welfare systems in which social benefits are modest, they are often means tested and where entitlement rules to receiving them or gaining access to some public services are strict.

- Conservatist Welfare States (e.g. Germany)-such welfare systems are concerned with preserving status divisions and are centred on traditional institutions such as the Church and family.

- Universal/Decommodified Welfare States (e.g. Sweden)-these welfare systems tend to deliver high quality universal benefits and services are provided.

Subsequent comparative welfare state analyses, using Esping-Andersen's framework, have proposed other welfare state regimes. In particular research has identified a fourth typology defined as being 'Latin' or 'Southern European'. This is made up of countries from Southern Europe, whose welfare states are characterised by such things as the lack of a social minimum; fragmented social security schemes; and a strong reliance on the family. Subsequent empirical research has validated the three welfare state typologies of Esping- Andersen along with the addition of the fourth welfare typology in Southern Europe (Saint Arnaud and Bernard 2003).

Following the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, and the subsequent accession of ten post-Communist countries into the European Union, attention turned to the future of welfare states in the region. The main area of discussion was around whether the welfare states in Central and Eastern Europe would converge with the welfare models existent in Western Europe; and whether a new distinct welfare regime (or regimes) would consolidate within the post-Communist countries.

The Welfare State in Central and Eastern Europe

One approach to the welfare states in the post-Communist countries, has been that these continue to be influenced by the historical legacies of the past (Pierson 2009). This is influenced by the path dependency approach to the post-Communist transition, which is built upon the premise that the institutional framework inherited from the past provides the basis upon which new institutions are built (Stark and Bruszt 1998). …

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