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How Social is European Integration?

  • Jacques Pelkmans

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

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    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.

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    Paper provided by European Economic Studies Department, College of Europe in its series Bruges European Economic Policy Briefings with number 18.

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    Length: 22 pages
    Date of creation: Sep 2007
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:coe:wpbeep:18
    Contact details of provider: Postal: Dijver 11, B-8000 Brugge
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