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 27-28 February, 2006. There will be public one-day meetings with smaller groups of authors 19 September and 10 October and also a public meeting of editing character with all the authors on 4 December, 2006.
One political paradox of the tension between economic integration and social disintegration is that EU recently has included 8 Central European countries but wants to exclude their workers (Kvist in JESP 2004). 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. That 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 enlargenment, 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. The capital regions and the Western border regions in Central Europe 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 distribution of welfare within EU (Heidenreich 2003).
This book project aims at analysing the question of social inequality and the preconditions of a European solidarity in a historical perspective. This is 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 monographs 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 on 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 how to guarantee 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 nowhere. The role of the trade unions in organising pressure and protests for improvements is difficult to overestimate.
With the collapse in the 1970s of the international order that had provided the framework of the national welfare politics social inequality came back to Europe. 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 was looked for in the direction of more market integration. Social disintegration should be solved through market integration.
The idea with Bretton Woods to embed the 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 internationalisation of banking and the accelerating trans-nationalisation of capital. It has become difficult also for big states to defend the social standards if they are alone. The interest by France and others in controlling Germany after the reunification resulted in the construction of EU:s new monetary policy where the social goals have been 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 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 recent about the rules of the Growth and Stability Pact have been challenged. The question has been raised whether the stability politics have not as a matter of fact put a brake on the economic recovery. A 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.
This book project will shed empirical and theoretical light on the concepts of social inequality and European solidarity and how it is connected to the question of market expansion. The question of the scope of manoeuvre of the trade unions will be addressed.