Even if the Pillar cannot address all the EU’s social failings, it has put a surprising social spin on the Better Regulation Agenda and helps rebalance the EU’s output by reviving the use of the Treaty’s Social Title.
The most competitive economies of the European Union (EU) spend more on social policy and public services than less successful ones. Knowledge economies and ageing societies require European welfare states to focus as much – if not more – on ex-ante social investment capacitation than on ex-post social security compensation. To make way and sustain for 21st-century social investment progress, untold lessons from the Great Recession call for a transformation in the Eurozone governance regime from a ‘disciplining device’ over member welfare states into a European Social Union (ESU) as a ‘holding environment’ for active welfare states to prosper.
A decade after the first deep economic crisis of 21st-century capitalism, Europe has passed the nadir of the aftershocks unleashed by the 2008 global downturn. Time to count our blessings: a rerun of the Great Depression has been avoided, and recovery is underway. The jury is still out on whether employment growth will return to pre-crisis levels. Unemployment remains very high, especially, in the Eurozone economies most adversely affected by the crisis. The political aftershocks of the Great Recession, the rise of populism across the continent, Brexit, and illiberal nationalist turns in Hungary, Poland and Romania, confront the European Union (EU) with an existential crisis. Most precipitously, the EU’s fall from grace as an even-keeled project of regional economic cooperation, committed, in the words of the Lisbon Treaty, to the ‘social market economy’, fostering economic prosperity and social solidarity in tandem, within and between member states, has fueled anti-globalization discontent, rising national welfare chauvinism and increased support for xenophobic and popular anti-EU populist in national and European parliament elections.
Can Europe’s unique ‘double commitment’ to inclusive social citizenship at the level of the nation-state and progressive economic integration on the European level be rescued in the years ahead? Is there political room for a more assertive social reform agenda, bolstered by EU policy instruments and institutions, to countenance both the ‘efficient market hypothesis’, falsified by the serious 2008 financial crash and the equally threadbare protectionist welfare populist backlash? These two questions figure prominently in Frank Vandenbroucke’s introductory contribution the ‘European Social Union (ESU) debate’, followed by Maurizio Ferrera’s call to craft a viable political roadmap for delivery, together with Manos Matsaganis’ warnings on the ‘snakes and ladders’ the detours ahead.