The Contentious Politics of Welfare Services

Research Strategy

This book combines the study of policy making and resistance by looking at both long-term trends in policy making as well as particular episodes of contention. So far, the relation between welfare services and EU integration has been dealt with by specific strings of research. The role of legislation and case law over SGI has been extensively tackled by specialists of EU law, with a strong focus on competition policy and jurisprudence (Prosser 2005a, b; van de Gronden 2009; Hatzopoulos 2012). Scholars of public policy have focused on a top-down Europeanization perspective showing how market liberalization has been enforced in the various sectors and member countries of the EU (Schneider 2001; Krautscheid 2009; Bauby 2011; Schmitt 2013). Finally, a series of studies and reports have been commissioned and/or financed by the EU institutions or public services trade unions. While extremely informative, these studies are mainly empirically driven and deal, again, only with the impact of liberalization at the national level (CIRIEC 2004; Keune et al. 2008; Flecker and Hermann 2012). On the other hand, there is an abundant literature on the global justice movement and the ‘eurocritical’ mobilization of organizations like the L’Association pour la taxation des transactions financieres (ATTAC) and arenas such as the European Social

Forum (Imig and Tarrow 2001a, b; della Porta 2004, 2006; della Porta and Caiani 2007). But the stress here is on organizational features and the internal issues within the movements rather than on their impact or on the nature of the policies which are contested. With a few exceptions (Parks 2015), the literature on contentious politics has therefore been mainly interested in investigating mobilization as a contribution to new forms of democracy at the supranational level, rather than as resistance to policy change induced by EU integration.

This book bridges the gap between these various bodies of literature with an approach which is original in at least three respects. First, while most scholars interested in welfare services have studied the developments of policy and law in the field, this book focuses on contentious debates and the way in which the contestation of marketization could be contained. At a broader level, Nicolas Jabko (2006) has, for instance, demonstrated how ‘the market’ has been the key idea and frame used by different actors in order to pursue different strategic aims by promoting integration through the market. In that sense, this book does not focus on successful processes of legitimation or successful policy making, but rather on what has been contested, did not succeed, and fed a process of delegitimation of EU integration. Second, instead of focusing on specific sectors, the emphasis lies on broad, intersectoral contentious debates where ideas about the role of market, the State, the EU and so on rather than the specifically sectoral and technical considerations underpinning actors’ positions. Andy Smith (2006) has noted the marked fragmentation of the EU into separate sectoral realms favouring disconnected compromises and the depoliticization of the ‘government’ of the EU. Studying the politics of welfare services as a broad, intersectoral issue allows to analyse the interactions over time between the routine functioning of the EU and moments of politicization where policy issues are dealt with in political arenas of ‘intersectoral mediation’ (ibid.) such as the EP, the Council and national public spaces. Third, the analysis takes multi-level politics seriously as it considers the national, EU and global dimension of contention over welfare services. While European politics are at the centre of the analysis, it pays attention to how national debates and actors, on the one hand, and global policy agendas and contentious politics, on the other, have shaped the marketization of public services and the politics thereof. When looking at specific interactions and coalition building, multi-level politics are nevertheless not conceived as three distinct ‘layers’ of politics. On the contrary, horizontal issue networks and ad hoc coalitions shed light on the interpenetration of agency at all territorial levels.

In addition to the long-term approach of policy making and resistance pertaining to welfare services since the late 1980s, the book provides a more in-depth account of three key contentious episodes relating to welfare services which have been at the centre of the EU political agenda between 1997 and 2007, namely the debates on the EU Services Directive and the EU Framework Directive on SGI, and contestation against the GATS. These episodes are the only and key contentious debates which occurred at European scale; insofar, it would be misleading to speak of ‘case selection’ as the book does not adopt a comparative methodology between cases. Rather, the approach is historical/narrative as these episodes constitute the empirical flesh for studying contention over welfare services in connection with EU policy making. In this regard, the decade under examination has been a turning point which sealed the fate of welfare services in the current era of austerity. Since 2007, no significant, salient debate has emerged over welfare services: neither on the EU agenda nor in the wider public sphere.

The analysis relies on a variety of sources. In order to reconstitute the dynamics of marketization through policy making, all the chapters rely on the specialized literature and empirical studies over policy developments in various SGI sectors. EU law is also an important source, encompassing EU treaties, legislation and jurisprudence of the ECJ analysed in the academic literature on EU law. In addition, official documents from EU and national institutions are also used to shed light on policy making. Finally, press articles were useful to reconstruct political processes or account for some actors’ positions in the debates.

The three above-mentioned debates are too different in their nature and scope to replicate one single protocol of research, so they were investigated according to their own internal logic, with the stress remaining on politicization through coalition formation and framing. Coalition formation at the scale of the EU (or globally) was scrutinized through the involvement of left-wing associations, NGOs and think tanks (such as ATTAC, Oxfam, the World Development Movement and Corporate Europe Observatory), political parties (radical left, social democrats and greens), trade unions (the ETUC and European Public Services Union [EPSU] in particular) and political institutions, including EU institutions as well as national governments and parliaments.

When looking at the role of national politics in internal European debates (Chaps. 3 and 4), it was impossible to take the then 25 Member States into consideration. Moreover, contention was not present everywhere but only in countries where the issue of public services acquired some visibility. Hence, the choice was made to focus on the main players in the debates and countries where contention was most present, namely France and Germany, at least for three reasons. First, these countries both have a long tradition of provision and funding of welfare services by authorities, yet are contrasted from an organizational and institutional point of view. More importantly, these two countries have a decisive weight in EU politics (even more so in the pre-2004 EU), and many key protagonists in the debates over welfare services have been French or German. Thus, such a focus was more fruitful than, for example, one on the UK, whose representatives in the EU institutions consistently take pro-market positions. Nevertheless, references and data relating to further countries and actors were also used where relevant. As far as the study of the anti-GATS debate in Chap. 6 is concerned, attention laid on contention in the global arena, on the one hand, and its repercussions in the European political arena, on the other. This included looking at overlapping networks of NGOs as well as at the Commissioners for Trade as decision makers in charge of the negotiations in the WTO.

The study of discourse is based on a diverse set of sources, including documents of institutions (such as transcription of speeches and press releases), documents published by political parties, trade unions and civil society organizations on their websites, and minutes of the plenary sessions at the EP Following Schmidt (2008), the qualitative frame analysis used looks at both ‘cognitive ideas’ relating to specific policy issues and involving a certain degree of expertise (e.g. the country of origin principle), as well as on ‘normative ideas’ appealing to values and which are often connected to broader policy programmes and public philosophies (Social Europe or democracy). In terms of content, the methodology adopted is rather inductive and adopts the two-dimensional conceptual grid. Thus, two types of frame are investigated: on a horizontal axis, those related to the respective scope of action and the moving boundaries between public authorities (may they be national states or the EU) and the market, that is the discourse of market building and general interest; on a vertical axis, frames related to the appropriate levels of governance and moving boundaries between local and national authorities and to the EU; this includes, for example, framing in terms of democracy or subsidiarity.

The written sources are complemented by 52 semi-structured interviews conducted mainly in Berlin, Brussels and Paris between 2008 and 2013 with actors involved in these debates within political parties, trade unions and civil society organizations. An additional series of three interviews conducted by Michael Strange[1] in 2005 with prominent figures of the anti-GATS campaign are also used in Chap. 5- All interviews were used for tracing events and collecting factual information about coalition formation and actors’ motivation. They were not used for frame analysis purposes. In brief, the amount and diverse nature of the material collected on the matters under scrutiny offers both a long-term historical account of debates as well as a close up on three key debates with a more in-depth analysis of the institutional and discursive dynamics of contention in the multi-level EU polity and beyond.

  • [1] I would like to express all my gratitude towards Michael Strange from Malmo University for hisopenness about sharing his interview transcripts with me. Unfortunately, unlike practices in quantitative research, it is rare that scholars working with qualitative data, especially interviews they haveconducted themselves, are prepared to share it.
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