The Elusive Pursuit of Social Europe

Resistance to marketization and liberalization is one way to understand the contentious politics of welfare services in the EU. Another way to analyse this issue is to study endeavours to promote the re-regulation of welfare services at the EU level as a counterbalance to negative integration. Where pro-market policies could not be avoided, another way for pro-regulation actors to tackle the negative backlash effects on welfare services has been to promote the adoption of market-correcting policies. In other words, in order to determine whether the EU is bound to be neoliberal, it falls short to demonstrate that resistance to negative integration was not strong enough to stop the pro-market agenda. It is also crucial to understand why alternatives failed. Ironically, although the notion of ‘social market economy’ was only recently introduced into EU primary law with the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU has never been so far from embodying this notion. When the treaty entered into force in December 2009, the EU had just entered the post-financial crisis era. The euro crisis, that is a financial and bank crisis leading to a crisis of the Eurozone and to a larger economic and social crisis in the EU, apparently only constitutes a critical juncture. In fact, the crisis has only served to accentuate the existing trends and asymmetries within the EU. In that sense,

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 A. Crespy, Welfare Markets in Europe, Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-57104-5_4

it confirms a departure from the Delorsian project of building a supranational social market economy (Crespy and Menz 2015b). While it never excluded integration through the market, the political project of a ‘social Europe’ embodied a social democratic concept of integration rooted in regulated capitalism differing distinctly from the neoliberal project for Europe (Hooghe and Marks 1997).

According to Scharpf (1988), the weakness of positive integration can be explained by what he called the ‘joint-decision trap’: national governments generally want to preserve or upload their own institutional arrangements, thus leading to deadlocks in the Council. Moreover, non- majoritarian institutions such as the Commission and the ECJ, who are weakly accountable towards constituencies, can more easily overlook popular demands for market correction and use their institutional supremacy in EU governance to promote integration through the market.

This explanation fits only partially with the politics of welfare services. As we will see in the first section in this chapter, since the mid-1990s pro-regulation actors have succeeded in obtaining increasing recognition of SGI in EU treaties. However, the ambiguous provisions included in the Treaty of Lisbon point to a change of mood in EU politics—both in terms of ideas and in power relations. In the second section, a focus on the debate surrounding a possible EU Framework Directive on SGI between 2000 and 2007 sheds lights on these political dynamics. Ultimately, as demonstrated in Sect. 3, the failure of pro-regulation actors to garner sufficient support for an EU policy of welfare services based on positive integration has left them with weak policy alternatives as well as weak contentious politics circumscribed to sectoral issues.

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