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How Social is European Integration?


  • Jacques Pelkmans

    (Senior Research Fellow, CEPS (Brussels); Visiting professor, College of Europe (Bruges))


The social dimension of the internal market or of the EU more generally has recently been under quite fundamental attack. Calls for 'Europe' to be 'more social' have been heard repeatedly. Witness the polarized debates about the services directive, the anxieties concerning several ECJ cases about what limitations of the free movement of workers (posted or not) are justified or the assertion of a 'neo-liberal agenda' in Brussels disregarding or eroding the social dimension. This paper takes an analytical approach to these issues and to the possible 'framing' involved. Such an analysis reveals a very different picture than the negative framing in such debates has it: there is nothing particular 'a-social' about the internal market or the EU at large. This overall conclusion is reached following five steps. First, several 'preliminaries' of the social dimension have to be kept in mind (including the two-tier regulatory & expenditure structure of what is too loosely called 'social Europe' ) and this is only too rarely done or at best in partial, hence misleading, ways. Second, the social acquis at EU and Member States' levels is spelled out, broken down into four aspects (social spending; labour market regulation; industrial relations; free movements & establishment). Assessing the EU acquis in the light of the two levels of powers shows clearly that it is the combination of the two levels which matters. Member States and e.g. labour unions do not want the EU level to become deeply involved ( with some exceptions) and the actual impact of free movement and establishment is throttled by far-reaching host-country control and the requirement of a 'high level of social protection' in the treaty. Third, six anxieties about the social dimension of the internal market are discussed and few arguments are found which are attributable to the EU or its weakening social dimension. Fourth, another six anxieties are discussed emerging from the socio-economic context of the social dimension of the EU at large. The analysis demonstrates that, even if these anxieties ought to be taken serious, the EU is hardly or not the culprit. Fifth, all this is complemented by a number of other facts or arguments strengthening the case that the EU social dimension is fine.

Suggested Citation

  • Jacques Pelkmans, 2007. "How Social is European Integration?," Bruges European Economic Policy Briefings 18, European Economic Studies Department, College of Europe.
  • Handle: RePEc:coe:wpbeep:18

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. A. Rodriguez-Pose & Riccardo Crescenzi, 2006. "R&D, spillovers, innovatoin systems and the genesis of regional growth in Europe," Departmental Working Papers of Economics - University 'Roma Tre' 0067, Department of Economics - University Roma Tre.
    2. Nikolay Nenovsky & S. Statev, 2006. "Introduction," Post-Print halshs-00260898, HAL.
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    5. Luis Rubalcaba, 2007. "Services in European Policies," Bruges European Economic Policy Briefings 16, European Economic Studies Department, College of Europe.
    6. Bleischwitz, Raimund & Fuhrmann, Katrin, 2006. "Introduction to the special issue on `hydrogen' in `Energy Policy'," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 34(11), pages 1223-1226, July.
    7. Alfred Endres & Cornelia Ohl, 2005. "Kyoto, Europe?—An Economic Evaluation of the European Emission Trading Directive," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 19(1), pages 17-39, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bleischwitz, Raimund & Bader, Nikolas & Dannemand, Per & Nygaard, Anne, 2008. "EU Policies and Cluster Development of Hydrogen Communities," MPRA Paper 14501, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Bleischwitz, Raimund & Bader, Nikolas, 2010. "Policies for the transition towards a hydrogen economy: the EU case," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(10), pages 5388-5398, October.
    3. Jacques Pelkmans, 2008. "Economic Approaches of the Internal Market," Bruges European Economic Research Papers 13, European Economic Studies Department, College of Europe.

    More about this item


    social policies; EU; European integration; 'social Europe';

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe
    • F15 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Economic Integration


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