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José Luis Gómez-Barroso, Stefania Barillà and Ivan Harsløf

This chapter aims at assessing the EU’s emergent policy framework – the agendas, regulations and discourses – concerning social services within the larger field of social protection. At the turn of the millennium, it seemed that the conditions for a leap forward towards a more social union were in place, not only externally, by shifting its borders to the east, but also internally, by building up a more cohesive entity. In the latter respect, social services were given a prominent role. While it soon became clear that the EU would still be travelling essentially on economic rails, indeed social services are integral to the current strategy, as represented by the Social investment package and the Platform against poverty. In particular, a relevant part of the structural and investment funds to pursue social policy goals of promoting social services has been earmarked, marking a slight change in the mode of governance towards ‘harder’ law mechanisms. Yet beyond the very ambitious discourses and goals, an ambivalent stance and a number of structural tensions permeate the EU social policy framework and in particular the initiatives more specifically geared to social services. The very ambitious goals are not supported by actual financial means; a tension remains between the attempt to set up a European regulatory framework and national sovereignty in the social domain. Moreover, there seems to be a contradiction between competition policy applied to services and the right to welfare involved in social services. These unsolved tensions are likely to be the result of compromises in a geopolitical region accommodating different welfare state models, entailing different approaches, goals and interests.