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From Monetary Europe to Social Europe

A new rule-making method for social and economic issues has been emerging at the EU level over the last five years. Its implications for the very future of the European Union are crucial. Janine Goetschy1, a member of the research group “Work and Mobilities”, analyses the phenomenon for Thema readers.

European integration has been experiencing rapid change in social affairs since the Treaty of Amsterdam* in 1997. The European Employment Strategy (EES) was adopted at that time and has since been refined. This new method of social regulation, re-baptized by the European Council in Lisbon (March 2000) as the “Open Method of Coordination” is intended to complete the set of policy instruments already in place for European Community action, such as legislation, collective European negotiation, structural funds, support programs or even cooperation policies.

Ambitious goals
Put into practice soon after the signing of the treaty in 1997, the EES and its score of policy prescriptions organised around four themes (employability, entrepreneurship, adaptability and gender equality) got a second wind with the Council of Lisbon. The Strategy is now part of a much larger, ten-year European economic and social strategy and it has a new, ambitious goal: a 70% employment rate by 2010 (60% for women and 50% for workers between 55 and 64 years old), assuming an annual growth rate of 3%. The Lisbon Council also marked an important step forward in the area of coordinating structural policies in favor of employment with other policies (macroeconomic, structural economic reform, innovation policies, fight against social exclusion, social welfare protection policies, education and training, environmental policy, and others)

Strong points...
This new approach to regulation possesses some undeniable advantages; it broadens the European agenda to include themes which do not strictly speaking fall under Community jurisdiction and at the same time it opens up the possibility of a Community contribution on contentious subjects. Its multi-year scope means problems can be tackled in a medium-term view less dependent upon national-level election agendas. In addition, a European strategy entails an iterative process among Community, national and local levels resulting in a reinforced commitment by States along with increased participation by a variety of actors (central administrations, European institutions, labor unions, and NGOs). Greater participation should yield better and more legitimate measures taken. The emphasis on evaluation engendered by this new approach underlines the importance of adopting effective goal-oriented measures with a certain timetable. Each policy area is approached in its entirety, and it is this global method that should ultimately stimulate a coordination of economic and social policies at national and European levels. Finally, this new European social strategy is capable of responding to member State diversity while encouraging convergence.

...and some points open to criticism
Since being put into place, the EES has also been the object of some sharp criticism, with attacks coming along two main lines. The first of these is the subordination of employment policies to European economic policies. Critics argue that just as there is a tendency for monetary policy and the stability pact to dominate employment and social welfare policies at both EU and national levels, other macro-economic policy devices remain insufficiently coordinated among member States.
The second line of attack is on the legal and political front, where criticism is leveled against non-binding overall directives that are not necessarily respected. Some critics fear moreover that this method might become the dominant regulatory mode in the EU at the cost of weakening European legislative initiatives and threatening the foundations of conventional and more legalistic Community methods.

This overall debate furnishes some solid arguments in favor of a pluridisciplinary analysis — combining insights from political economy, political science and the sociology of law.


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Summary

à lire

Goetschy J. (1999), "The European Employment Strategy : Genesis and Development", European Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 5, number 2 : pp. 117-137.

Contact

Janine Goetschy
"Travail et mobilités" (TEM)
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 97 71 33
E-mail: tem@u-paris10.fr or janine.goetschy@skynet.be

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