Perhaps it’s because Europe has spent so long in a stateo war that the uture o the EU is always seen in termso being a battle between two opposing orces. A war o ideology which is ought, not in the muddy elds o theSomme but in anonymous corridors in Brussels. Two-sided, polarised debates almost always dominate in theUK. Should the EU be a Christian club or secular society,do we pin our allegiances to an EU army or NATO and, o course, do we want a social Europe or one built on a neo-liberal US economic model? The problem, is that whilst debate in the UK and perhapssome other European countries may be polarised aroundtwo diametrically opposing arguments, the debate in theEuropean institutions is oten ar more complex.One o the great dierences between policy-making inthe EU and the UK is that in Europe outcomes are almostalways achieved through intricate negotiation. For tradeunionists, this is amiliar territory; our day-to-day work is allabout negotiation. However, many British politicians andmost o the media reporting EU issues in this country arear more amiliar with the Westminster way o lie; a wayo lie in which the government makes a proposal, a noisypolarised debate ensues, ollowed by the governmentgetting basically what it wanted in the rst place. This is one o the reasons why this particular debate is sooten positioned as a choice between a European socialeconomic model or one based on US style neo-liberalism. The problem with such a polarised debate is it isn’t alwaysgoing to be easy to decide the exact ground on which weare debating.We need to start with an understanding o what we meanby the European social model. Despite various pieces o EU legislation, dierent European countries deal with theircitizens’ protection and their workers’ rights in dierentways, so i there isn’t a single methodology, is there at leasta single outcome around which EU policy revolves? Thereare perhaps a ew basic principles which can be instructive.In most European countries policy-makers recognise theeconomic benets that come rom protecting citizensand providing workers with a voice in their workplace.Whilst vested interests may try to denigrate the role thatsocial protection and employee representation plays in astrong economy, the benets in terms o productivity aresignicant. There are, o course, other economic benetswhich fow rom the type o employment legislation wend in European countries. For example, health andsaety legislation keeps people economically active, whilstproviding employees with a better work-lie balance whichmeans that they are able to participate in the economy asconsumers as well as workers – increasingly important intoday’s consumer-driven economies.So, one element o the European model is that thestate recognises that social protection and employeeinvolvement are important parts o economic policy.However, there is a more basic principle involved. It’s not just about economic benets. Across Europe there is anacceptance by both government and society at large thatwe have a moral and social responsibility – a responsibilitythat is shared between the state, citizens and business.It is rom these basic principles that the idea o a Europeanmodel emerges, but like many things that are hard todene, it is easier to see it when contrasted againstsomething very dierent. Which is where the polariseddebate comparing Europe and the USA is particularlyinstructive. The US model certainly does oer a stark contrast to theEuropean way o dealing with the weakest in society. Take an example. Much has been said o the Americanresponse to the impact o Hurricane Katrina, but there is areason why it has received such great scrutiny. Whilst theextent and scale o the damage was unimaginable (and itis likely that any country would struggle to cope with suchan onslaught), it was a real surprise that the world’s richestand most powerul nation could have been so ill-preparedin a region notorious or tropical storms. The problemsexperienced in New Orleans demonstrate some o the keyailings o the US model. To European observers it was incredible that only thoseable to aord to leave the aected area were evacuated;that the reuge to which people unable to evacuate weresent had no clean water or medical supplies. The USmodel’s reliance on charity to provide or the least well o meant that when disaster came knocking, the state wasunprepared and unable to help. The real reason that the tragedy in New Orleans receivedso much attention is that what it means to be poor in 21stcentury America was laid bare or all to see. The Europeansocial model is about giving citizens a level o protectionthat, sadly, millions o Americans are lacking.However, the way in which that protection is providedvaries rom country tocountry, which makes
The ‘SocialEurope’debate – a veilfor Europe’sfailings?
Adrian Askew, General Secretary of Connect, theunion for professionals in communications.