Rethinking the European social model
Foundation for European Progressive Studies
145 - 164
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Delivering empowered welfare societies
The concept of the European Social Model (ESM) has been used by academics and practitioners alike for quite some time. Though its precise conceptualization often remained elusive, its use was welcomed across much of the mainstream party political spectrum in Europe. After all and although the ESM could be interpreted in different ways, it surely stood for the uniqueness of the west European version of capitalism, normative or real, and the positive connotations associated with it. The banking, sovereign debt, financial and economic crisis, however, has contributed not only to a drop in economic output and higher unemployment across much of the European Union (EU). It is also leading to a new soul-searching mission as to what the ESM really is, not least in light of the conscious political choice to adopt austerity politics as a mechanism of economic “catharsis”, and to impose the costs of “adjustment” mostly on those least in a position to defend themselves from freely floating market forces. Given the heterogeneity of EU member states and their very diverse institutional and organizational features, does a European Social Model still exist today, even at a normative level of common aspiration? Is the policy of socio-economic convergence between the localities, regions and states of Europe still part of a grand EU contract to which the citizens of Europe can have faith? Or does the crisis underline and aggravate EU heterogeneity, leading to internal competition on economic performance, thus relegating further any concerns the Union aspires to in terms of social protection and cohesion? In other words, is ECB President Mario Draghi write when claiming that the “European Social Model is already gone”?