Social Quality – Community actions against Poverty as Context

To set the context for contemporary debates on social quality and its measurement it is worthwhile to look at the history of European integration. Here it is not so much of importance to look at the entire history of European integration – as we all know largely a history of non-social policy. The early stages had been characterised by

* A strict compliance to the principle of laissez-faire approaches

* plus embryonic patterns of “flanking” the market integration

* including marginal protection of those who wanted to avail of the “fundamental freedom” to travel and work in another country.

It had been only in 1972 that social policy as a matter of in its own right caught the attention of the Heads of the State and had been issued on the summit of Paris . But again, it had only been dealt with on a very general level. What is important is that a discussion had been initialised and further developments could refer to this summit. The decisive step regarding the further development for an increasing awareness of the importance of issues going beyond labour market issues had been the decision in favour of what became known as Poverty-programmes.

Before and even after the 1972 summit of Paris European social policy had still been strongly connected with the “Community Charter for basic social rights for workers” – expressed for example in the quarrel around the Social Charter of workers rights, agreed upon in 1989. What, actually, is interesting about this is the fact that initially it had been planned as a Citizens Rights Charter. But as such it could not succeed.

Be it as it is, later the European Commission set into place a series of three programmes to combat poverty:



Title (not necessarily the official name due to own re-translation from the German)



Number of projects

Based on


Model programme and -studies to combat poverty (Poverty 1)

1975 - 1980

20 Mio. ERE

23 projects and studies

Council Decision 21.1.1974, 22.7.1975, 12.12.1977


Programme of the European Communities to combat poverty (Poverty 2)

1986 - 1989

25 million ECU

92 projects

Council decision 19.12.1984


Medium-term action programm of the community for economic and social inclusion of the most disadvantaged people (Poverty 3)

1990 - 1994

55 million ECU

29 model projects, 12 Innovative Initiatives

Council decision 28.7.1989


Medium-term action programme to combat exclusion and foster solidarity – a new programme to support and stimulate innovation (Progress)

1994 - 1999

121 million ECU

44 local, 19 national, 7 transnational Projects

Communication by the European Commission 22.9.1993


The first three programmes had been implemented – and even if the Council decision finally lead to the programmes, they had been only possible on grounds of article 235 of the then valid Treaties. That article stated a kind of right for universal action – even in areas where the Commission did not have explicit competencies action was made possible if – by unanimous vote of the Council – it had been defined as meaningful for further integration.

However, on this legal basis it is hard to accept these programmes as core element of European policy.

This had not been a critical view from outside. Rather, particularly the German government rejected to go ahead with the fourth programme which at the time had already been issued. The Commission, keenly interested in going on with the fourth programme tried to find arguments to support their stance. But finally the German government had been joined by (varying) coalition partners, namely the Netherlands , the UK and Denmark . This coalition already shows the different interests behind the rejection. At the end the UK was the main plaintiff and the European Court finally decided that the there had been no legal basis for further action in the field of combating poverty (see for some details – validity of the links in the text cannot be guaranteed anymore).

The disadvantage was clear: No action could be undertaken since then – basically. However, the advantage can be seen in the fact that the political actors had been forced to search for a coherent solution – founding ant-poverty-policy on an “institutionalised state of exception” had been outlawed.

Already at an early stage it had been clear that an article would be included into the Amsterdam Treaty, allowing distinct action to undertake respective action against exclusion and to promote inclusion.

What is important in substantial terms here is the shift throughout the history of anti-poverty politics: Had it initially been concerned with action to combat poverty and exclusion the time brought a turn to the fore: later orientation focussed on inclusion, seeing poverty basically not (anymore) as a structural issue and seeing inclusion mainly as issue of labour market integration. Thus it tends to reduce anti-poverty measures along the lines of the Employment policy guidelines, namely

*    employability

*    adaptability

*    entrepreneurship

*    equal opportunities.

In practical terms of policy making the following aspects are of importance.

1 The Commission, knowing about the prospects, launched “preparatory measures”, promoting small-scale projects, allowing in particular for the preparation of the field. This included a strong orientation on measures concerned with looking for possibilities of defining target groups.

2 The strengthening of the political orientation, which aimed (a) on the development of social indicators and (b) the establishing and tightening the link to economic integration.

Important official statements in this context are the following:

The Presidency Conclusion from Stockholm (March 2001) stated under point 28:

The fight against social exclusion is of utmost importance for the Union . Paid employment for women and men offers the best safeguard against poverty and social exclusion. Those who are unable to work are, however, entitled to effective social protection and should be able to play an active part in society. Active labour market policies promote social inclusion, which combines the pursuit of social objectives with the sustainability of public finances. Priority should be given by Member States to implementing National Action Plans on combating poverty and social exclusion in order to progress on the basis of the common objectives agreed in Nice, assessed by commonly agreed indicators.

The reference to the National Action Plans highlights the link to the open method of coordination, as laid down during the Lisbon summit in early 2000.

Together with the activities on the national level a process of central debate and decision making had been launched end of 2001 – with the strong support by the Belgian Presidency.

In the meantime indicators can be found (or are discussed for a variety of fields), namely

As part of the annual employment guidelines,

In the area of security for the elderly; for young people, in the areas of health and asylum.

Most importantly a social protection committee had been set up. This promotes a two level indicator process as follows:

Primary indicators would consist of a restricted number of lead indicators which cover the broad fields that have been considered the most important elements in leading to social exclusion; Secondary indicators would support these lead indicators and describe other dimensions of the problem. Both these levels would be commonly agreed and defined indicators, used by Member States in the next round of National Action Plans on Social Inclusion and by the Commission and Member States in the Joint Report on Social Inclusion. There may also be a third level of indicators that Member States themselves decide to include in their National Action Plans on Social Inclusion, to highlight specificities in particular areas, and to help interpret the primary and secondary indicators. These indicators would not be harmonised at EU level. (Social Protection Committee, report from October 2001)

What can clearly be seen is the contradiction between different orientations. As it is important to appreciate a certain opening of the debate, talking wider areas of social quality, of well-being into account we find at the same time and again and again the opposite way, focussing on a narrowly interpreted integration strategy on the basis of economic growth.

Thus, the Employment and Social Policy Council, as it took place on March 7th this year:

“reaffirms the need to strengthen social integration and the fight against exclusion, in line with the conclusions of the Nice European Council , since, notwithstanding the multidisciplinary nature of the phenomenon, the best instrument for inclusion is employment, so that it is essential that employment services and social services work together in such a way that both mechanisms improve the employability of the socially excluded. Employment is always preferable to unemployment, but it must meet certain minimum conditions and offer opportunities for progress in work.”

And in the Presidency conclusions from March 15th/16th, 2002 we read:

The European social model is based on good economic performance, a high level of social protection and education and social dialogue. An active welfare state should encourage people to work, as employment is the best guarantee against social exclusion. The European Council considers the Social Agenda agreed at Nice to be an important vehicle for reinforcing the European social model. The Spring European Council must be the occasion for an in-depth review of progress in bringing about its objectives. This review should lend further impetus and lead to appropriate initiatives where necessary. The Lisbon goals can only be brought about by balanced efforts on both the economic and social fronts.

As far as the social front is concerned, this includes

increasing the involvement of workers in changes affecting them. In this connection, the European Council invites the social partners to find ways of managing corporate restructuring better through dialogue and a preventive approach; it calls on them to engage actively in an exchange of good practice in dealing with industrial restructuring;

enhancing the qualitative aspects of work: as regards in particular the health and safety dimension, the European Council invites the Council to examine as a matter of priority the forthcoming Commission communication on a Community health and safety strategy.


In short, we can see that the “progress”, namely the acceptance of an original European competence in the area of combating poverty had been highly priced: the concentration on traditional market (-liberal) strategies to overcome social exclusion.

Now, it has to be said at the same time that this string link to labour market policy and economic area should be seen as well as opportunity to overcome the split between different “social movements”, here the workers movement and there the movement for the excluded. Social professions and social politics would do good to return to a more holistic approach, and this would definitely mean not to look solely at “own rights” but to look at common social rights in the quest for social quality. And the orientation on social quality has thoroughly to investigate the question of the meaning of quantifiable indicators. Already in the 60s/70s of the last century a social indicator movement tried to solve questions like this and again and again the challenge is to include those aspects which are usually hidden behind the figures – including them without “individualising cases”.