On the occasion of the presentation of Maurizio Ferrera’s new book, Rotta di collisione (Bari: Laterza, 2016) we have interviewed one of the panelists, political philosopher Salvatore Veca, on some of the themes touched in Ferrera’s volume.

Do you agree with Ferrera’s analysis of the clash between Europe and welfare?

Ferrera’s take on the tension between the European Union’s economic aims and welfare systems’ social objectives of single member states is convincing and enlightening. I believe the four lines of conflict identified by Ferrera can be hierarchically organized: tensions between northern and southern Europe, and between east and west are generated by the priority assigned to pro-market EU policies, which promote an integration unresponsive Europe’s social dimension. If short-term efficiency is not weighted with social equity objectives, it is clear to me that conflicts between north and south, and east and west will produce disastrous effects for the EU. Based on this, it is only natural to identify the fourth conflict line as one between Brussels and the member states.

The misalignment between the monetary and economic arena of the European Union and the national systems of solidarity generates a series of effects on social and political actors’ statements and behaviour as well as political and social theory. In the former sphere, one can identify a general withdrawal of confidence vis-à-vis European institutions, which in turn produces such Euroscepticism, exit policies and various forms of nationalist populism. As for political and social theory, the crisis is giving rise to a number of new ideas as to how to fix the EU. Among those, I believe that the proposal advanced by Ferrera in the fourth chapter of Rotta di Collisione on the creation of a social European Union is very significant.

Do you believe that normative concepts of solidarity and hospitality are sufficient for constructing a social EU?

The normative basis on which Ferrera constructs his social Europe project includes at least two principles: benevolence (or compassion) and hospitality. The former should work by avoiding the trap of reciprocity and the rhetoric of “who owes what to whom”. Now, it is clearly difficult to defend a solidarity scheme without some underlying idea of reciprocity. Clearly, the reciprocity scheme might not, by itself, be able to generate a sense of justice and community. It could suffice, however, when we operate in a long enough timeframe. As the stag hunt game suggests, when actors interact in the presence of a long shadow of the future, a mutual interest in cooperation can be generated.

I am convinced that we need to work on a project of European social justice theory. This is a complicated but crucial project if we want to avoid dissipating the political efforts and achievements towards continental integration.

Also in the case of hospitality, Ferrera is referring to a wider timeframe, appealing to the noble pedigree of Kant’s cosmopolitan law project: “As in the case of fraternity, dispositions of hospitality are triggered by an expectation of reciprocity […] The current host may become the receiver of hospitality in the future” (p. 133). In my opinion, the tension between the short- and long-term perspective is salient here, especially from the standpoint of a political normativity such as the one favoured by Ferrera: a perspective that, in neo-Weberian terms, aims at extracting normativity from existing political facts and from the social logics guiding them. In the book, this is confirmed by the desperate research of a leader who is not “transitive” and focused on the short-term.

I am convinced that we need to work on a project of European social justice theory. This is a complicated but crucial project if we want to avoid dissipating the political efforts and achievements towards continental integration. As European citizens, we should reinforce this project’s virtues as well as denounce its defects and deficiencies. We could conceive a European justice theory as an interpretation of the European community’s sense of justice, which is present among citizens. However, we should embrace the intellectual responsibility of “constructing” a possible public culture on whose intuitive judgements of justice to infer equity theorems. We are, however, facing difficulties in this sense due to the lack of a single continental community. Only with a deep sense of community can a rightly balanced reciprocity scheme that manages the costs and benefits of redistribution be defined. Difficulties are not insuperable but it is important to adopt a step-by-step procedure that starts from how things are to how they should be according to some normative criterion.

Let’s consider the underlying logic of the European welfare state: we are faced with a variety of welfare cultures originating from diverse historical processes and events. Nonetheless, a first step could consist in the establishment of basic political and social value schemes, which could orient us toward future convergences. I believe it is particularly important today to focus on the concept of distributive justice, considering that in the view of the Brussels “econocracy” there is only space for commutative justice.

Do you believe, with Ferrera, that the creation of a social European Union is necessary for the construction of a political EU?

A social EU reconciling and realigning efficiency and equity or, in any cases, favouring solutions that aim at rebalance the two can, in favourable circumstances, generate a political union. Without a European social union, I fear that the collision between the social and economic dimension of integration is bound to persist and worsen.

As soon as experts change their function from selecting means to defining aims, or become isolated vis-à-vis political decisions and the public sphere, we have a vulnus to the correct functioning of a well-ordered democracy.

A theme that is found in Ferrera’s book concerns the bureaucratization of the EU and what he defines as “econocracy”, with a particular reference to the EU’s crisis management and austerity measures. Here we are touching on a classic theme of political philosophy, namely the relationship between experts and democracy. Do you believe it is possible to reconcile the necessity of involving experts in public policy with the principle of democratic equality?

My answer to this question is grounded on a distinction between means and aims. Although I am aware that the distinction between the two is porous and mobile, I believe this is an effective way to clarify the role of experts in democracy i.e. that of selectors of alternative means in a context in which political objectives are decided by democratic authorities. In this sense I do not see any contradiction between the role of experts  and democracy. Clearly, as soon as experts change their function from selecting means to defining aims, or become isolated vis-à-vis political decisions and the public sphere, we have a vulnus to the correct functioning of a well-ordered democracy. Very often, experts’ isolation from political aims leads to the mantra of inevitability—to the famous “there are no alternatives”. As Tony Judt wrote in his last book, “in order to convince other people that something is right or wrong, we need a language of aims, not a language of means”.

To conclude, do you believe that the reconciliation between economic and social   Europe is an attainable political objective?

It is certainly a desirable objective. The sphere of the desirable is often broader than the sphere of the feasible. And feasible actions, as Ferrera rightly observes, necessitate political actions, which in turn require “transformative” leadership. The latter must be equipped with the rare virtue of foresight or in any case incentivised to select long-term alternatives. Again, it is a tension between long and short temporal frames. The political process of European integration has gone through advancement, moments of impasse and risky phases, such as the one in which we seem to be trapped right now. Sometimes the phoenix is reborn in circumstances in which such possibility seems almost inconceivable.

Now, believing in the feasibility of something always presupposes something modal. From an epistemic standpoint, we all possess a map that, over time, assigns possibilities and necessities to various states of affairs. We always need to exercise our sense of possibility within the boundaries marked by the current state of affairs. In this sense, it is natural to recall Max Weber’s maxim in Politics as a Vocation: “Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible”. Recalling the importance of a theoretical commitment in favour of a European theory of justice, we should also cite the major justice theorist of the last century, John Rawls, who in his last book The Law of Peoples asserted that “By showing how the social world may realize the features of a realistic utopia, political philosophy provides a long-term goal of political endeavour, and in working toward it gives meaning to what we can do today”.

Photo Credits CC: ingiroconmama

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SALVATORE VECA is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Pavia, where he served as Chair of the Faculty of Political Science from 1999 to 2005 and Prorector for the Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori (IUSS) between 2005 and 2013. His latest publications include Un’idea di laicità (2013), L’immaginazione filosofica e altri saggi (2012), and L’idea di incompletezza: Quattro lezioni (2011)..



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