Vaughan-Whitehead: Is Europe Losing Its Soul? The European Social Model in Times of Crisis

From the Introduction (available here):


This book is the final result of a series of projects started in the early 2000s carried out by the ILO and the European Commission to ensure regular and systematic monitoring of social policies and industrial relations. From the EU accession of Central and Eastern European countries (with Cyprus and Malta) we started to question the future of the European Social Model (Vaughan-Whitehead 2003), and tried to forecast whether working conditions in the enlarged EU would diverge from or converge around the European Social Model (ILO-EC project 2004–2005). We monitored the world of work in the enlarged EU with a focus on the quality of employment and working conditions (ILOEC project 2006–2007). Then came the financial and economic crisis and we analysed its social outcome and identified how it challenged social cohesion within the EU and increased inequalities. In particular the most vulnerable workers were identified in the crisis (ILO-EC project 2008–2010). Among the categories most at risk, a particular group was identified in the second part of the crisis characterised by austerity packages, public sector employees, and we carried out a comparative study to identify the public sector shock and its short- and long-term effects (ILO-EC project 2011–2012). However, the extent of adjustments and reforms in the past few years induced us to enlarge this study to carry out a more comprehensive assessment of all the areas and elements of the European Social Model. Undoubtedly, there are elements of the European Social Model – such as pension systems – that may need to be reformed to make them more sustainable under demographic and new economic and social pressures. However, under the pressure of the financial crisis and following the introduction of austerity packages to reduce debt, we witnessed most European countries changing – often hastily – several elements of that model: social protection, pensions, public services, workers’ rights, job quality and working conditions and social dialogue. A paradox considering that it had taken EU countries more than 60 years, since the Treaty of Rome in 1956, to agree on common views and principles and to develop a coherent set of national and EU regulations and institutions concerning social issues. This social dimension, accompanying and even stimulating economic growth, undoubtedly represents the soul of the European Union, envied and copied by other regions and countries in the world.

Is Europe currently losing this legacy? And if so, what were the motivations behind these changes and what are the effects? On the social side, will it not lead to ever growing inequalities, social exclusion and poverty, and to increased social conflicts? On the economic side, is this not leading to unbalanced growth and thus also endangering the long-term sustainability of our economic model?