September 11, 2014
Guest blogpost by Alfio Cerami, author and former international consultant for Unicef.
During the last two decades, the social policy approach of the European Union (EU) has witnessed significant changes. This has primarily included a major shift: from social policies of inclusion seen as a mere outcome of economic development to factors contributing themselves to economic development. As stated by the European Council of Lisbon (March 2000), high economic and social performance must go hand in hand.
The European Council of Lisbon has not only emphasized the necessity to eradicate poverty, but it has also introduced an important tool to combat social exclusion. According to the Open Method of Coordination (OMC), common objectives set at the European level must be translated by appropriate national policies (NAPs). As a consequence, macro-economic stabilization measures introduced by the Member States must be included in a framework which also considers their impact on the population. This principle has also been reemphasized in the Europe 2020 agenda. Has this really happened?
The main argument put forward in this short article is that due to a lack of consensus around a clear social policy model and of inclusion, the OMC and other alternative modes of governance that are envisaged from time to time are likely to succumb to the reasons of the Single Market, producing counterproductive effects for the overall process of European integration.
Particularly with regard to the reform of the social security systems, national welfare states have been called to redefine their boundaries of responsibility (Ferrera 2005) by ensuring systems of social protection, which are “socially inclusive”, but also financially stable.
This task is even more difficult in Southern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. These Member States, in fact, still face numerous challenges connected to the recovering from the Eurocrisis and the restructuring of their economies. But for these countries, the OMC is likely to play a greater role if compared to that expected in Continental Europe. On the one hand, it might represent a powerful instrument to guide their economic restructuring. On the other, it might help to foster the convergence toward common European values (in the light of the so-called “European Social Model”) (Dehousse 2008).
Undoubtedly, one of the most controversial issues encountered in comparative European politics remain the fact of whether EU institutions are succeeding to acquire enough political power to efficiently reduce national sovereignty. According to the “multi-level governance” approach, European institutions are, in effect, succeeding in overlapping national autonomy through a form of “multi-level governance”, in which sovereignty is shared by national and supranational actors (Hooghe and Marks 2001).
As a result, the debate on the OMC has let some authors affirm that EU institutions will be able, in the near future, to increase their role in coordinating national social policies. Ferrera et al. (2002, p. 227) have argued, for instance, that “even in the absence of hard regulation and sanctions, the OMC generates several incentives for compliance on the part of national and subnational governments”.
However, as Scharpf (2002, §6) has correctly emphasized, national welfare states are “constitutionally constrained by the “supremacy” of all European rules of economic integration, liberalization, and competition law, and they must operate under the fiscal rules of the Monetary Union”.
At this stage, an important question that still needs to be addressed is whether the OMC will be a sufficient instrument to promote a more inclusive society or whether the necessity to ensure macro-economic stability will prevail against the will to guarantee social inclusion.
Overall, it seems now a necessary precondition to improve understanding of the EU policy-making and its implications for Eastern as well as for Western European welfare systems. In particular, it seems necessary to identify the limits and perspectives of the Open Method of Coordination by evaluating not only the impact of social policies of inclusion, but also what alternative modes of governance can be introduced. Good practice in policy implementation and in inter-governmental negotiations should also, in this context, be highlighted.
In order to find an adequate response, a more careful analysis of legislative and structural reforms jointly discussed at EU level must be linked to an investigation of their real impact at national level (Borrás and Radaelli 2010). In particular, future policy-making should focus on those characteristics that have led a specific policy of inclusion to be successfully implemented, but also on those policies that have turned out to be unsuccessful, as in the case of migration and migration governance (see Carmel et al. 2011). Going even more into details, this involves a better understanding of the OMC and of the real coordination mechanisms that are established between the EU and national governments.
Contact Alfio Cerami:Blogactiv Team