EUrope - between socio-cultural space and institutionally limited entity of economic integration

“Do you know what they do to poor men in the States who, like you, do not work for their living?”

“I am very ignorant,” she pleaded.

“What do they do to the poor men who are like me?”

“They send them to jail. The crime of not earning a living, in their case, is called vagrancy.”

(Words said against a young upper-class women, working as novelist. From: The Sea Wolf by Jack London)

The difficulty of approaching the entity, which today is called European Union (EU) with its different institutions, is based on at least four aspects (general historical data seen from the official point view can be found here):

(1) The claim of being a “cultural unit”, having a common tradition against the reality of being formally drawn together after century old conflicts and diverse national patterns of living together – on a micro- and a macro level alike.

(2) The focussed approach is limited – substantially – by the “market orientation” and – formally – by the principles or subsidiarity and proportionality versus (a) the impossibility of dealing with economic issues which are effecting the social – on a more general level and as well on the level of ways of living together on the immediate level. and (b) the historical background of establishing the ECSC and EEC respectively in the 1950s: The Heads of the States (sic!) aimed on securing peace – answering the experience of two barbarous world wars.

(3) As said, the original plans and actions had been initiated and led by the Heads of the State. The people of the member states had not been part of the project – despite the fact that politicians felt they would act “for” their people. And even nowadays the decisive institution – the Council – is an intergovernmental institution and there is still no EUropean people even after the introduction of elections to determine the composition of the European Parliament in 1979. And it is true as well after the definition of a citizenship status.

(4) The constitution of a single market is by definition based on the idea of opening borders or even more, of abolition of state borders. However, the single market was at the same time defined by a Ausgrenzung, as a process of demarcation in a tripartistic world system. Europe was thought of as fortress against the USA and at the time “the East” – comprising the former communist countries and the Asian countries. – The so-called Third-World-Countries did not play a role at that time. And the constellation is insofar especially interesting as the communist states built on the one hand a single block, competing with the others. At the same time, however, the NATO combined so to say the forces of the rest of the world against the communist world. Thus the partners of the alliance had been at the same time conflicting parties.

In fact, already this constellation justifies speaking of a common tradition. As such there is at least one ancient fama – today we would probably speak of a great narrative, or should we say: incidence? – which is a candidate for such a common tradition – a tradition of conquest and rape war.

However, it is pointless to go into details of this strand of the debate. What is unquestioned is the fact that the member states are socially shaped in different ways – an issue widely discussed under the heading of different welfare state regimes, an issue, which goes, however, far beyond issues grasped under such a more formally oriented approach.

Founding the then European Economic Communities (EEC) the Heads of State had been well aware of this fact. They did not attempt to force these different systems into any kind of corset of a ‘unified entity’ – to some extent this meant as well that they denied on the one hand what they preached on the other hand, namely the cultural and social entity. Rather, they developed a strategy, which is commonly linked with the name of Jean Monnet. The cornerstones of this so-called Monnet-strategy of European integration, basically as theoretical models (and ideologies) discussed under the term of (neo-)functionalism are as follows.


   Point of departure is a predicament, given by the political and economic situation after World War II.


   In consequence the founding and original member states laid down some basic political and economic regulations in regard of political stabilisation and economic recovery.


   By concentration on areas where common and mutual efforts had been essential, namely public goods and mutual interest goods and the reinforcement of the basic principles it had been envisaged that common efforts would be sufficient as basis for

        a)   the development of common economic politics and policies

                          b)  the emergence of collective welfare

                         c)   the concatenation of political relationships

                         d)  the evolution of public support.


   Institutionally European entities would originally exist side by side with national institutions; however, in the medium and long run the national institutions would be substituted by supranational institutions, namely the Council and the Commission – the latter would thus emerge as points where European competence would be crystallise.


   The institutional success – namely depending on the interaction between Commission and Council would show especially as success of three features:

             1)   stimulation of good ideas and appropriate entrepreneurs – the latter would act as innovators and act as an avant-garde of Europeanisation;

                 2)   the institutions had been expected to provide practical solutions in regard of important questions, which had been generally acknowledged as relevant and requiring action;

                 3)   The immediate interests of the actors, in particular the elites, in regard of the emerging European system had to be met.


   A.S. Milward (The European Rescue of the Nation State [London: Routledge, 1992] translated this into - and traced it back from - very concrete terms of rational interests behind the action of the founding individual Member States. In the words of Brendan P.G. Smith the Treaties of Rome 'provided a politico-economic framework to control a renewed Germany, after American pressure had ensured that a permanently weakened Germany was not an option. For France, the Treaty of Rome promised, perhaps, a chance to control German renewal more subtly than occupation ever could. For German, it was a dignified ascent towards respectability and renewal after the abyss of fascism. For the Benelux countries the treaty was a promise that there would be no return to the post-war protection that had so devastated their export-based economies. For the Belgians, it was a look away from simmering internal division. For Italy, it was a means of attaining French and German markets so badly needed to recover.' (B.P.G. Smith: Constitution Building in the European Union. The Process of Treaty Reforms; The Hague/Ldn./N.Y.: Kluwer Law International, 2002: 23 f.) 


   In this institutional structure and against the background of these interests the Commission was conceptualised mainly as “acting institution” whereas the Council had the just as important role to identify the problems and challenges from the national perspective and to articulate the respective interests.


   In the Treaty (of Rome ) the basic structure had been only put down in term of a general framework. Nevertheless, at the same time some stabilising factors had been included. In particular these can be named as Court of Justice and the European Parliament.


Instruments of European policy making

ARTICLE 249 (ex Article 189) as laid down in the Treaty of Amsterdam

In order to carry out their task and in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty, the European Parliament acting jointly with the Council, the Council and the Commission shall make regulations and issue directives, take decisions, make recommendations or deliver opinions.

A regulation shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.

A directive shall be binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods.

A decision shall be binding in its entirety upon those to whom it is addressed.

Recommendations and opinions shall have no binding force.’

Even if of a very different status Communications by the Commission should be mentioned as well. They are important instruments in regard of analytical character with an important role in agenda setting.


The sociological, political and ideological discussion on the process of European integration is largely employed by the evaluation of this approach. (Neo-)Realism is seen as alternative, very bold spelled out as a competitive model, based on national interests, standing against each other, and leaving no space for (the development of) common politics ands policies, as soon as they would go beyond immediate interests. In other words according to realism, supra- and even international integration takes only place insofar national interests are immediately served and actually strengthened.

The space for “the social” in this overall concept, as it had been grasped as Monnet-strategy had been given in particular by the following requirements and ideas:


  Free movement of workers had been the one cornerstone of any “social activities if we look at the situation in the beginning of the process – the objective here was to motivate workforce to move freely and at the same time to cushion possible negative effects.


   Important was the overall cushioning of social (re-)structuration. This is of a twofold meaning at that time. The economy had been completely destroyed after World War II – thus there was the time to restructure the national economy; and: a major shift took place in regional respect – another dimension of (re-)structuration.


   A particular question had been the one concerned with equal opportunities between men and women. The central meaning of this are can briefly described as follows. France required some European social policy responsibility. The then government argued that it would not be possible to maintain a relatively high standard without such European responsibility. One had been afraid of social dumping, social tourism and the like. On the other hand, the then German government claimed that social (security) costs would only count for a minimal part as part of the overall price of labour – other factors as individual qualification and social climate would be of at least equal importance. The compromise, which arose is simply the inclusion of a section on social policy which had been formulated in broad (or even nebulous) terms, without any stipulations how (most of) the provisions should be enforced.


   As means even for such a limited responsibility of the institutionalised Europe the Treaty encompassed the European Social Funds. The ESF is basically a means of employment policies and labour market integration. Nevertheless, since in particular the Commission employs a wider understanding of the own competencies the guidelines of the funds allowed from their beginning for some wider activities, including social work and community work intervention.


   Social policy as a European matter became a real issue only in 1972 when the Summit of Paris emphasised that economic success could never be understood as end in itself. The real understanding would aim on the improvement of the living and working conditions of the people. Thus, the indicator for progress in the economic integration would be what it meant for the living conditions.


   In view of building a kind or typology of activities we find throughout the history of the institutionalised EUrope permanently – even if only marginally – social policy elements as redistribution (between regions), industrial politics (vocational training, improving the conditions for mobility of the workforce) and social regulation (especially in the fields of working conditions, protection of health, and especially equal rights for women)

It is difficult to say how far the changing orientation with and since the summit at Paris was only a lip service. At least the follow-up of the summit in Paris saw the elaboration and putting into force several initiatives, including a first social action programme – a multi-annual programme which followed basically three pathways:


   Investigation of common matters and matters of mutual interest – including the determination of problems and challenges;


   Setting a basis for common action – initialising contacts, exchange and the development of innovative ideas in face of new challenges; we can take this as an approach of European policies as programme-policies;


   For lack of a fundamental mandate in the social field the strategy was based on the idea of “politics by programmes” (s. Herrmann: Social Policy in the European Union [Sozialpolitik in der Europäischen Union]; Rheinfelden/Berlin: Schäuble, 1997). Articles 100 and 235 provided the legal basis for respective activities and initiatives.

Article 100 in the wording of the Treaty of Rome

’The Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee, issue directives for the approximation of such laws, regulations or administrative provisions of the Member States as directly affect the establishment or functioning of the common market.’

Article 235 in the same version of the Treaty

‘If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, take the appropriate measures.’

Background for this recognition was – on the one hand side – the need of legitimising EUropean politics. It was more and more coming to the fore that “ Brussels ” was not able to develop links to any kind of European citizenry. Another aspect, which brought this increasing interest to the fore, was the economic situation at the time.

A somewhat booming industry, thus providing some resources for socio-political measures;

At the same time a massive crisis – raising unemployment, the oil price crisis, and the so-called job-less growth;

And – in consequence – the widening gap between rich and poor.

In addition, new member states brought an additional threat insofar as the internal tensions of Member States, i.e. the mentioned gap between rich and poor, had been reproduced on the “higher level”. Rich countries stood side by side with poor countries. Thus, a tensional social field arose, showing at least four groups: The rich in the rich countries, the poor in the rich countries, the rich in the poor countries, the poor in the poor countries. This was in strong contradiction to the ambitious objective of developing coherent and equal living conditions all over EUrope (as claimed, for example, in article 2 and 3 of the Treaty).

In any case, one qualification has to be made in regard of the economic orientation – actually, such a characterisation is not quite correct. Basically, the competencies in respect of economic integration are reduced as well.

In general, here as in any other field of EUropean policies, the principle of subsidiarity determines the reach and quality of policy-making on the EUropean level. Even if only since Maastricht laid down in terms of (primary) law the idea had been carried on throughout the whole development since the early years of the process of integration.

Probably more important and shaping the substantial background was the idea of a single market. Even concerned with the four basic freedoms, namely


   Freedom of capital


   Freedom of goods


   Freedom of services and


   Freedom of workers

the original competencies had been concerned with financial instruments. We can speak of politics of finances. To some extent this enabled the Commission to coordinate the activities of the member states. Neither is this the same as a general competence in the economic field not is it a matter of a real competence for activities – action and coordination are two things. Not least this means to uncouple the political sphere from the real economic development (markets of goods, production etc.).

Coming back to social policy in and by the EU we can easily figure out a general model, which underlies any approaches – and again it complements the politics in other areas. Here, we can indeed speak of a European Social model, a common ground. It is the orientation along the lines of


   a male breadwinner household,


   leaving the main responsibility for production and reproduction on the family,


   thus being based on the idea of private responsibility,


   and on a finally flanking function of collectivist solution, namely intervention by the state.


   Furthermore, it is intervention by the state rather than clearly solidarity-based solutions,


   Since any solidarity is in tendency again undermined by the individualising requirements of


   – as mentioned before – informal private solutions


   and/or solutions by commodification – actually commodification is strictly an approach where socialised solutions are re-privatised. It is the private market, which is supposed to represent society (the theoretical reference, here, is the Marxist analysis of the exchange value versus the practical value and the fetishism of commodities).


   the principle of mainly insurance based and social security systems, in particular linked to employment is just another expression of the same “private” character of this EUropean social model.

Although we have this kind of EUropean social model we have to be aware of two dividing lines, which make it reasonable deny the view of such a common model as fundamentally defining a common EUropean space.

As we will see, in particular Gøsta Esping-Andersen (The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism; Cambridge 1990) emphasised the differences of social systems in the perspective of commodification (see for details later during the course).

The various EU-institutions as they are responsible, in legal terms i.e. competent in EUropean policy making have different interests in regard of where political power should be and what kind of social responsibility and competence should be established on the supranational level. In regard of differences the Council, the Commission, the Parliament, the ESC and the COR are of particular interest. The background of the difference can be seen in the respective link and foundation of each institution in the national, the international and supranational process of policy-making respectively. Two momentums play a decisive role, put into the form of a question we ask:

1 Where is the focus of gaining legitimacy – on the national, the supranational or the supranational level? This question has to be answered with respect to the “electorate” as well as with view on where the measures and more in general action should be located.

2 Is there, and if so in which concrete way a mechanism by which the organisation develops an interest in sustaining itself by virtue of an internal mechanism, where organisational question overwhelm matters of political substance.

Furthermore, there is good reason to question the distinctiveness of such a model. Indeed, the US American and the Japanese model alike do not show some of the features just mentioned and at the same time we find other features, which we do not find in the EUropean context (or not to the same degree). The specific voluntarism in America and the “paternalistic familiarism” in Japan/Asia can be mentioned in this regard. Nevertheless, there is in many regards a convergence between the different systems here as well. And it is in some cases difficult to state clearly similarities and differences. This is obviously even more the case if we look at Europe itself. To take one extreme: Is Switzerland part of this European unity? Or is it not part because of its highly decentralised, in some way basic-democratic character? Or remains it outside of the EUropean model simply because of its non-membership in the EU?

Anyway, to a certain degree European social policy took off the ground, and developed slowly but surely. This process was very much focused on not just imitating any given model. Rather, it was very much concerned with developing the “idea” which was lying behind an evolving EUropean social policy and even more a later European social and welfare state respectively. The basics can be summarized as follows.

The immediate and fundamental concern had been twofold. Namely we find as one aspect the firm will to avoid any distortion of the rules of competition. The quarrel between France and Germany , as mentioned above, is one (and probably the most prominent) example of what is meant by this. Activities and initiatives in this area had been developed especially around issues of employment, labour law, working conditions, social security, collective bargaining and gender issues. The legal framework was defined in Article 101.

Article 101 in the version of the Treaty of Rome :

‘Where the Commission finds that a difference between the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States is distorting the conditions of competition in the common market and that the resultant distortion needs to be eliminated, it shall consult the Member States concerned.

If such consultation does not result in an agreement eliminating the distortion in question, the Council shall, on a proposal from the Commission, acting unanimously during the first stage and by a qualified majority thereafter, issue the necessary directives. The Commission and the Council may take any other appropriate measures provided for in this Treaty.’

Furthermore, the Treaty contained a special title respectively chapter, concerned solely and explicitly with what had been understood as social policy. This had been laid down in articles 118 following – to some extent this title had been modified over the years to an extent that we have to talk of a different feature in today’s version. The most far-reaching change had been the inclusion of the social protocol with the Treaty of Amsterdam . Another change given with the revision as reached in Amsterdam had been the inclusion of a new chapter, which is explicitly and solely concerned with employment.

An important element of changes was and is not the primary concern of changing contents. Instead, the decisive shifts are given in the requirements of votes, necessary to launch activities – an increasing number of fields do not require unanimity; furthermore, the meaning of article 235 (since Amsterdam article is diminishing in its central role).

In my opinion this is made possible by the fact that the base line had been fixed – and watered down – over the years and the common and mutually accepted core is a strict orientation along the lines of the so-called employment strategy (initiated as explicit and “coherent strategy” on the summit in Essen in 1994).

If we look back, analysing the Summit of 1972 and the follow-up, we have to admit that – looking from today’s perspective – for a certain time social policy was mainly shaped by the Commission – the Council showed an open mind (or we can say as well no interest), leaving it up to the Commission what and how EU social policy was to be developed. During this phase, the field is oriented within a wide frame, encompassing “flanking” measures, i.e. a variety of activities aiming on securing the realisation of core issues of European integration (realising the single market) and approximating measures which are near to social and/or community work. Even if a link to employment policies was always a guiding principle European social policy had been understood as a field of experiments, more or less uncoordinated, providing a field for exchange, analysis and development. Despite the causes, as they had been mentioned before (legitimation, partial economic boom, increasing gap between rich and poor), another reason for the actual constellation can be seen in a certain sense of “meaninglessness”: Actually, most if the measures and activities had not been developed with the original aim of being implemented as part of the dominant social policy. This is reflected in the reference to article 100 and in particular to article 235 – any positively defined legal basis had not been in existence (and at least for the time being not been envisaged). Furthermore, it had been reflected in the pattern of “programme policy”, i.e. isolated, individual measures, and more or less “introspective” approaches.

All this does not mean that no attempts existed in regard of developing an “integrated” approach, and seeing this implemented as “mainstream policy”. But this idea had to be developed against the background of two factors. (a) it simply had not been known what a European Social policy and a EUropean added value could be like. And (b) it still was an issue of debate if European social policy would be based on the idea of convergence or of harmonisation.

Convergence is understood as a process of successive changes. The autonomy of the actors, i.e. the nation states is not questioned and actually seen as an important part on which concrete steps built upon. It is underlined that the national systems are shape according own principles and these have to be taken as point of departure for any further development. It is only from here that a common strategy and – eventually – system can emerge and develop over time.

Harmonisation accepts as well the differences but interprets them as a kind of obstacle. The prior aim is the establishment of a common system. To approach this in praxis basically the idea is to set a common framework by defining the politics and policies and lay down a closer and closer network of regulations, which develop to a common system. With the time, so it is assumed, the national differences will be blurred and even abolished.

For the time being the final official solution to the debate had been laid down in the Council recommendation of July 27th, 1992 on the Convergence of Social Protection Objectives and Policies


This basic feature, i.e. the leading role of the Commission and the somewhat disinterested opinion of the Council had increasingly been undermined, and actually it had been the success, which made the Heads of the State aware that they would be threatened by the danger of loosing a last resort of original “own”, i.e. national, sovereignty. En passent it has to be noted that in particular social issues are a decisive element of determining national identity – actually nation states developed and stabilised by and large by establishing national identity around social integration. And social integration had been based not least on the existence of a nationally defined social and welfare system.

In turn, the Council developed a three-dimensional strategy of European social policy – and in fact we can speak of an approach, which is in itself quite consistent.

1 Of ongoing importance was the immediate link of social policy (issues) to the single market strategy: flanking the emerging market, securing against any “negative” effects of social issues in connection with questions of competition and fostering free movement of the workforce are important issues with a longstanding tradition.

2 A more (or less) recent development is the positive definition and acceptance of a kind of original European responsibility in the social policy field. However, this is defined – as thus restricted – on matters of employment related issues. Under the title “Employment Strategy” and legally defined I a distinct chapter of the primary law since Amsterdam a process is set into force which is strictly focussed and limited, namely this strategy is concerned with and only with employment and employment related issues.

3 At the same time, a wider orientation is rejected. Even if this seemingly in contradiction to new initiatives as a “fourth poverty programme” (and the preparatory measures during the recent years), as a directive against discrimination and others more the core is that these measures are only possible since they are strictly oriented and built up along the line of the Employment Strategy [Here you find a list with various official documents (and links to access them)].

This strategy itself is based on a perspective in four main lines of the National employment guidelines – the orientation of the first guidelines as a result of the formulation in the conclusions of the council meeting in Luxembourg is kept as well for the guidelines of the coming years. Namely, the cornerstones are seen in the following areas:


   Improving employability;


   Developing entrepreneurship;


   Encouraging adaptability of businesses and their employees


   Strengthening equal opportunities policies for women and men.

Content and order of the headings – here taken from the 1999-guidelines – clearly show the hierarchy and structure of EUropean orientation in the are of social policy. Nevertheless, even if meanwhile defined as a EUropean matter and established with some EUropean competencies; moreover, even if developed to a more and more “coherent” approach of EUropean social policy two main features have to be mentioned:

1 Basically social policy – as activities in any other area – is subject to the principle of subsidiarity (as developed before);

2 The strategic intervention is still based on the idea that diversity is a characteristic feature of European development and policy. Any attempts of harmonisation and convergence have to take this into account. Most recently this had been defined on the summit in Lisbon as strategy of ‘introducing a new open method of coordination at all levels, coupled with a stronger guiding and coordinating role for the European Council to ensure more coherent strategic direction and effective monitoring of progress.’


The centripetal power of the single market is superior in relation to the centrifugal forces of national social policies. This is not only due to the essential value of the single market for the overall process of European integration. Furthermore, another reason has to be seen in the attraction of a closed model. For the judges of the European Court of justice and any other person using legal terms it is easier to argue against the background of a single European economic order rather than taking fifteen different systems of social contracts. In addition, there are strong economic interests behind the centripetal forces. However, what cannot be found behind the centripetal power is any socio-political will to shape and design socio politics. Put differently: A will to design a social space beyond the legitimate trust in the social benefit of the market cannot be expected. The establishment of a single market is not allowed to abandon the original own code.

(Hans F. Zacher: Wird es einen europäischen Sozialstaat gegen? (Will there be a European Social State?; in: Nachrichtendienst des deutschen Verein für öffentliche und private Fürsorge: 1/2001: 13 – translation: P.H.)