Elements of European Social Policy – a schematic overview

Note: The different areas have to be seen (a) in their interconnection and (b) as parallel elements of a unitary process.



The four basic freedoms, concerned namely with the free movement of

*   capital

*   goods

*   services and

*   people

The meaning for social policy is manifold.

*   In general it suggests that these basic freedom are precondition for an increasing employment rate, be it as immediate effect or indirectly as result of increasing exchange of goods (as standard for measuring wealth of a capitalist societies).[1]

*   On the general level of free movement aspects to be mentioned as social policy relevant are as well consumer protection, public health and the like.

*   Furthermore, the orientation on the free movement can be linked as well to the process of building the fortress Europe. The single market as internal market closes itself – per definitionem – against third countries, be it in regard of international trade or be it in regard of migration.

A further meaning sets a second area of social policy, i.e.


The requirement of co-ordination measures to regulate the free movement of persons, in particular workers. Aspects as social and health insurance and the coordination of the transfer of these rights in case of migration built a wide range of an important legal aquis communitaire, basically defined and laid down in articles 2 and 3 EU-Treaty (general aims and objectives), article 13 EC-Treaty (anti-discrimination), article 42 EC-Treaty (coordination rules), all specified in regulations 1408/71 and 574/72.


The free movement of capital and of services is furthermore meaningful in regard of social policy as it has – real and potential – influence on the provision of social services. As other areas alike it is here of particular importance that this is an area that is by no means clearly visible. It cannot be fully overseen let alone that it is completely determined. Only recently the debate on the meaning has been pushed forward by the launch of a revised version of a Communication on Services of General Interests. Aspects that are of relevance are for example:

*   the potential opening of service provision to the market laws, i.e. the subordination of social service provision under the requirement of profitability – economisation, liberalisation and deregulation are the recurring catchwords;

*   this is connected with influencing the quality of services as not unlikely consequences are Taylorisation, particularisation, (bio-)medicalisation and similar patterns of social service provisions;

*   in the context of being forced to follow mainly criteria of “viability” and “feasibility” pattern of targeting and victimisation are likely to say the least. It can be taken as a matter of fact that processes of subordinating social services under in professional terms align criteria will not have the supposed effects of stimulation by competition.


A wide area shaping future life, not least the constellations and patterns of social relationships has to be seen in the context of the envisaged “information society”. This puts living conditions and working conditions alike under pressure of change, changes working conditions and as well the needs of social support. Educational needs, educational services, service provision in other social areas, processes of community building – these are just a few catchwords that sketch the area of “the social and the information society”


Not only in the context of information society the organisation of work is a major issue of EU social policy. To some extent this is, of course, immediately connected with the issue of enhancing competitiveness. Be it as it is, organisation of work is again influencing aspects of the being together, of socialisation of life and the “social needs and challenges” alike.


Another important area is the one of the social partnership, as it is being acknowledged on the top level of European policy making. Going back to negotiations in Val Duchess in 1985, mainly initiated by Jacques Delors the dialogue had been meant as another way of “subsidiarisation”. It had been thought to shift responsibility from the governmental-political level to the level of those who immediately concerned. However, looking a closer for example at the question of who is acknowledged as “social partner” and who is involved in their selection it may be questioned if the approach really served a wider inclusion of those concerned, giving them a wider scope of power and influence or if the strategy was simply aiming – or at least in actual fact setting into practice – a strategy of dispersion of resources and wearing down potential opposition.


Furthermore the analytical division between negative and positive integration is of interest.

Negative integration is meant as elimination of (in particular trade) national constraints, which is necessary to create a single market.

Positive integration is any politics and policy aiming on the creation of the single market and furthermore an integrated European entity.

(see Tinbergen, Jan: International Economic Integration: Amsterdam 19652)


A second differentiation that goes across the elements as they had been elaborated earliuer on is provided by Gianomenico Majone. He sees the European Union matters mainly shaped by a regulative pattern, using in particular the means of (re)distribution of income, macroeconomic stabilisation and regulation of capital flows.

A second pattern that he would suggest as pattern of a developed welfare system is the one of redistributive politics. Here, we find the immediate distribution and redistribution of means by the state or statutory institutions/organisations.


What has to be noted in general is that fact that many developments are not – or not solely of even mainly a matter of European integration. This process just continues and strengthens a pattern of economic and general politics as it is rooted in national patterns of policy making. Actually, it can be argued that o conscious steering on a global or at least supranational regional level can provide an instrument of correcting national policies of national closure and unsocial competition. This is, however, a wide, very difficult debate as it is a contradictory development of which the assessment is probably as clear as mud.

[1]       Of course, the standards are debatable – and actually debated again and again for instance in connection with debates on suggested indicators as GDP et altera. Moreover, the presumed connection between an increase of the production rate, productivity etc. on the one hand and employment is questionable as well, as it starts from the simplified macro-econometric assumption of the equilibrium of a market society. The suggested translation of the one into the other growth rate actually never occurred as causal pattern.