Social Developments in the European Union 2011

On June 11, 2012, to mark the publication of the book Social Developments in the European Union 2011, the European Social Observatory (OSE) and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) held a conference dedicated to this work at the European Economic and Social Committee.

Philippe Pochet, General Director of ETUI, introduced the conference. He pointed out the singularity of the period by focusing on two dominant pieces of conventional wisdom in today’s public discourse: that reductions in public spending foster growth, and that the German model should be implemented throughout the EU. David Natali, Co-Director of OSE, took the floor to highlight the paradox of the situation: 2011 witnessed important progress in European integration, as well as improved economic governance and budgetary coordination (with the “Euro-Plus” Pact, two pack, six pack, etc.), but the EU nevertheless continues to face the same problems.

As was the case in 2010, Member States have pursued short-term austerity plans that leave no room for alternative growth strategies and defense of social rights. Moreover, the debt crisis continues to weaken Europe’s credibility around the world and the gap between European citizens and elites is growing wider.

Lieve Fransen of the European Commission also took advantage of the conference to give an initial assessment of progress made towards the Europe 2020 strategy: although some initiatives have been implemented, such as the platform against poverty, only long-term objectives tied to energy and climate are on track. In contrast, all other areas have deteriorated. This is the case for jobs, poverty and education, among others, with the result that 116 million people (23.5% of the population) continue to live with the threat of poverty in the EU today.

This situation is cause for concern for our European social model, and calls for a return to solidarity – a waning value among Member States – as a fundamental European principle. Mr. Natali thus advocates a return to Jacques Delors’ triptych of competition, cooperation and solidarity, as well as further pursuit of European integration. The EU must break away from “balanced-budget fundamentalism” and imagine new forward-looking alternatives. At the same time, it must reignite a constructive dialogue between decision-makers and social partners. Otherwise, Europe runs the risk of sinking into a crisis of confidence and legitimacy.

Social Developments in the European Union 2011
Edited by David Natali and Bart Vanhercke
Brussels, 2012