Jean-Claude Barbier, Ralf Rogowski and Fabrice Colomb
EU Governance, Social Protection and Employment Policies in Europe
Edited by Jean-Claude Barbier, Ralf Rogowski and Fabrice Colomb
This book argues that the European Social Model can only be sustained in the current economic crisis if social and employment policies are adequately recognised as integral parts of European economic policy-making. The contributing authors investigate this hypothesis through comparative evaluations of interactions of EU economic governance with national systems of social protection. In particular they focus on two key policy areas – social services of general interest and the regulation of working time – as well as covering areas such as social inclusion, active ageing policies and job quality. By combining sociological approaches with legal analyses, the book provides unique insights and evaluation of EU methods of governance.
Jean-Claude Barbier and Fabrice Colomb
On the basis of sociological research focused on actions and appreciations of ‘social policy’ actors, this chapter contends that, apart from the powerful constraint of macroeconomic governance, the main governance instrument has been hard law, even in an area where member states are deemed to have retained most of their jurisdiction. The sociological material is systematically cross-checked with legal literature and with material drawn from 26 EU law specialists’ interviews. The authors focus on the relationship between EU law and ‘social law’ (social protection, labour law and social services). The main finding is the confirmation of the jeopardisation of systems of social protection in the ‘old member states’. On the other hand, though, the Court of Justice of the European Union and the Commission have been able to display continual advances on the subject of ‘fundamental rights’, thus producing key sources of legitimacy among various actors. With the classically documented support of big business and corporations, and the active support of NGOs in favour of expanding individual fundamental rights, the on-going dynamics of EU law seem to lead inexorably to the demise of the late 19th century-born systems of social protection, as F. Scharpf argues. This deterministic analysis, however, does not take into account the current uncertainties about the role of actors.
The overarching research question in this chapter is whether the influence of EU law on social services is contributing to their ‘sustainability’ or rather to their ‘uncertainty’. With this interrogation in mind, one could review legal literature and check it against views of actors in the social services. The results lead to the conclusion that the very concept of SSGI (Social Services of General Economic Interest) is apparently less clear than existing notions in national legal orders. As EU governance keeps extending its reach, more uncertainty is then presumed to happen in the future and engender fresh problems. These conclusions should be put in the wider context of the characteristics of EU law explored in the book as a key instrument of governance in a domain, social policy, where the EU has very few legal competences. The overall assumption at the start of the project was substantiated: in interaction with national law (and various forms of domestic regulation) EU law brings uncertainty with it, at least for certain groups of Europeans, and more explicitly in certain countries. This uncertainty is mainly of a legal nature. It does not mean, however, that this influence automatically translates into difficulties and threats to existing domestic systems, for the essential reason that, between the making of EU law and its ‘application’ in practice, many complex processes happen, including the possibility of non-application. For this reason, consequences vary according to ideal-types of social protection, to countries, and also, within countries, to groups and individuals.
Social services of general (economic) interest (SSGIs) provide an interesting case for studying the influence of EU law on social protection systems. A sociological inquiry into this matter discovers a situation of uncertainty among actors in France. This uncertainty is legal, not in the strict sense legal scholars attach to the concept, but in the sense of the perception by social actors of the uncertain legal context to which they have to adapt to continue to manage and provide social services they had been traditionally delivering until the beginning of the 2000s. We describe the gradual transformation of the sector, and its partial ‘economization’, which dates much further back than the ’arrival’ of EU law; this leads to stressing the factors of transformation that make it relatively autonomous in a multilevel governance context. This is especially analysed in two key sub-sectors of the social services sector: childcare and long-term care for elderly persons.