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three - Which way for the European social model: minimum standards or social quality?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2022

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Summary

Overarching this chapter is a question that is of critical importance to the well-being of millions of Europeans and, indeed, to the character of the EU itself. In a nutshell, will the dominant social model (or models) promote exclusion or inclusion, or something in between? Will it aim for social justice for all, or only for the most needy or most deserving? Will it strive for an ambitious high-quality welfare horizon or settle for a minimum safety net? The importance of these questions is emphasised, as is the urgency of the answers they require, by the fact that, in some influential quarters, doubts have been cast on the European social model as well as it being potentially threatened by some policy developments.

This chapter catalogues briefly the key challenges to welfare in Europe. It then assesses the current stage of development of social policy at the European level, which is characterised as convergence towards the minima – the lowest common social minimum. The central argument here is that what we understand by the European social model is in jeopardy and, while there are some positive aspects of European social policies that could be built on in a progressive way, Europe lacks the common vision necessary to create a social model that maximises inclusion. Finally there is a summary of the progress of the social quality school of thought which is attempting to create a normative and empirical rationale for a Europe that aims for quality citizenship rather than minimum standards. There is no attempt at crystal ball-gazing here but, instead, an appraisal of the current direction of travel of the European social model and a contrast with the very different destination of social quality.

Before proceeding, at least one important question has been raised so far: is it possible or productive to speak about a single European social model? This is a controversial and frequently examined topic and there is not space to dwell on it here, beyond making three points. Firstly, the notion is often a crude, rhetorical overgeneralisation that is applied, willy-nilly, to Western Europe and, therefore, excludes Central and Eastern Europe. Secondly, it is essential when using the term to acknowledge the large variations between EU countries in the objective conditions of citizens, variations that in themselves cast doubt upon the very idea of a common social model.

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The Changing Face of Welfare
Consequences and Outcomes from a Citizenship Perspective
, pp. 33 - 54
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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