At a time when European unity is under pressure of populist movements and austerity-induced redistributive conflicts, Europe faces a major challenge. On the one hand, European integration has had major drawbacks for social welfare policies in EU member states, as the EU Stability and Growth Pact forced member states to limit spending which led to welfare retrenchment in times of economic crisis. On the other hand, European integration in the ‘social dimension’ does not yet provide a strong alternative for social protection, as the EU’s social competences and policy instruments are limited and impeded by institutional obstacles. The European project still lacks a social policy program that can fill the void of eroding national welfare states.
Although recent attempts have been made by EU policy-makers to strengthen the EU’s ‘social dimension’ with the aim to protect social rights and increase legitimacy of the European institutions, we are still far from a true ‘Social Europe’. Further integration can lead to a strengthening of the welfare state, through supporting the so-called European Social Model at EUlevel, as well as to a weakening, by limiting policy options and eroding the welfare state boundaries at the same time. This challenge shows the complexity of how to deal with social policy goals in the context of European integration.
For democratic decision-making it is crucial to understand how the general public perceives this development of Social Europe. Would European citizens be supportive of a truly Social Europe or would they rather fear further integration? Given the diversity in social and economic realities across Europe, it is likely that ideas and perceptions differ between EU countries and between social groups within countries. This adds another layer of complexity for social policy-makers, who want to ensure that their policies are legitimate and politically viable.
We invite papers in this stream that:
1) Address this complexity and interrelations of further European integration, national welfare states and social policy-making at the EU level. For instance focusing on how the EU strengthens or challenges the capacities of national welfare states. Or on the different ways in which the EU can protect and enhance social rights of the European citizens.
2) Address the social legitimacy of Social Europe. For instance exploring to what extent EU social policy-making is legitimate and what policy packages are supported by national electorates. Or focusing on the social and regional diving lines that emerge on this issue.