Organiser: The National Working Life Research Institute (the SALTSA Programme), Stockholm and EUI/RSC
Directed by Lars Magnusson and Bo Stråth
The first meeting with the authors of this book project was held at the EUI on 27-28 February 2006, European Solidarities. There were public one-day meetings with smaller groups of authors on 19 September and 10 October, and a public editing meeting with all the authors on 4 December 2006.
Through the Europeanisation of the jurisdiction, the money, the regional and agricultural policies, and the markets for commodities, services, capital and labour, social inequalities are increasingly generated and regulated at the European level. Perceptions of social inequality are no longer limited to the national arena. An important question is whether the emergence, interpretations and regulations of social inequalities is transformed by new centre-periphery structures in the EU of the 25. So far, there has been an obvious tension in the fact that EU is an economy but not a polity, a market but not a state. The social disintegration in the wake of market integration cannot be matched by redistributive politics to adjust for inequalities however they are defined.
This tension is, in particular, discernable in the EMU. Martin Heidenreich talks about a trilemma of enlargement, increased political cooperation and budgetary neutrality, which might lead to either convergence of Eastern and Western performance levels or to differentiation of the regional income and employment situation in Central and Eastern Europe. Central Europe’s capital and Western border regions are developing dynamically. The prospective consequences are a long-lasting prosperity gap between Eastern and Western Europe and increased regional differentiation within Central Eastern Europe. Such social differentiation is obvious since the 1970s also at the core of Western Europe. Without redistributive political measures, the reproduction of long-established disparities might emerge. The fact that they are long-established is no guarantee against social protests and claims for a more equal welfare distribution within the EU (Heidenreich 2003).
This book project aimed to analyse the question of social inequality and the preconditions of European solidarity from a historical perspective. This was the third cooperation project between EUI and the SALTSA Programme of the National Working Life Research Institute in Stockholm. The two earlier resulted in the anthologies From the Werner Plan to the EMU and A European Social Citizenship. The project will begin in January 2006 when a working group will begin to analyse the issue.
The question of social inequality was central to the agenda of European nation-building during the century from the 1830s to the 1930s. The debate about the so-called “social issue” dealt with the definition of equality and inequality. Academic social, economic and political theory, as well as politics, dealt very much with how to find the equilibrium and who was responsible. The answer to the latter question in the 1930s everywhere came out to be the state. The solution to the political problem of guaranteeing a certain standard of social equality emerged in the expansion of national welfare schemes in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the answer did not come from anywhere. The role of the trade unions in organising pressure and protests for improvements is difficult to overestimate.
Social inequality came back to Europe after the collapse of the 1970s of the international order that had provided the framework of national welfare politics. In social terms, the political economy of the 1950s and the 1960s, based on the dollar and the belief in political management of the economy, disintegrated. A fundamental restructuring of labour markets occurred, implying segmentation and the return of poverty. In economic terms, the response to this development was looked for toward more market integration. Social disintegration should be solved through market integration.
The idea of Bretton Woods to embed market liberalism in a larger context of social goals, such as full employment and protection of social standards, eroded with the oil price shock in the 1970s and the collapse of the international order. The embedding is eroded by the internationalisation of banking and the accelerating transnationalisation of capital. It has become difficult also for big states to defend social standards if they are alone. The interest of France and others in controlling Germany after the reunification resulted in the construction of the EU:s new monetary policy, where the social goals were pushed out in order to promote the overall goal of price stability. In its fight against inflation, ECB is an institution lifted out from the democratic connections as they work in the national context. It has proved possible to establish stable exchange rates despite growing capital mobility, but the EU has failed to establish acceptable levels of employment and growth. The social costs of keeping the currency stable are getting ever higher. In this framework, the rules of the Growth and Stability Pact have been challenged. The question has been raised whether stability politics have not, as a matter of fact, put a brake on the economic recovery. Permanent high unemployment and deflationary expectations have got a foothold in several of the EU Member States.
It seems clear that social inequalities cannot be analysed exclusively in a national context. Neither are they exclusively a European problem. The tension between economic integration and social disintegration is a truly global problem. To the extent that the problem is identified as a European problem, it is important to connect it to the wider global framework.
The project resulted in the volume European Solidarities edited by its two directors. Link here. The book sheds empirical and theoretical light on the concepts of social inequality and European solidarities and how they are connected to the question of market expansion. The question of the scope of manoeuvre of the trade unions is addressed.