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Social Market Economy as Europe’s Social Model?


  • Christian Joerges; Florian Roedl


Europe continues to search for its – 'European' – social model and the, search seems to become increasingly urgent. It is no longer just the 'democratic deficit', but also and alongside it, the 'social deficit' of the EU which needs to be cured. That new concern is, in fact, a rejection of the older answers. According to the ordo-liberal interpretation of the European legal order as an 'Economic Constitution' and, successively, in the analyses of the EU as a 'Regulatory State', the sphere of social policy was to remain a domain of the nation state. This seems to have become impossible. The Constitutional Treaty, indeed, makes a new commitment: 'The Union shall work for a Social Market Economy'. This paper submits that this commitment is conceptually a failure, and politically not credible. The Convention preparing the Constitutional Treaty has apparently ignored the meaning of the concept in the form in which it was shaped in Germany’s post-war period. This history entails some pitfalls for the Convention’s intentions, as the German 'Social Market Economy' involved not only a claim of integrating social concerns into the market economy, but also served to restrict claims for instruments of social policy remarkably at the same time. Moreover, the Convention has failed to confer a new and independent content to the concept of the 'Social Market Economy', which could help to overcome the concept’s ambivalent history, as well as the Union’s real 'social deficit'. The few innovations, the Charter’s Fundamental Social Rights and the Open Method of Co-ordination, were incorporated in such modest and non-committal forms that their potential to further the case for 'social Europe' seems marginal. The paper concludes that the invocation of the 'Social Market Economy' in the Constitutional Treaty is conceptually flawed and is politically an all too risky promise which may raise expectations which it will subsequently fail to deliver.

Suggested Citation

  • Christian Joerges; Florian Roedl, 2004. "Social Market Economy as Europe’s Social Model?," EUI-LAW Working Papers 8, European University Institute (EUI), Department of Law.
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:euilaw:p0008

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    governance; social policy; economic policy; constitution building;

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