Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
Each political season calls for new discourses and novel rhetoric. The Europe of Monnet was the Europe of peace and economic growth. The continued transformation of the European project over the past fifty years has required new narratives. The Lisbon Treaty rallied to the post-1945 German motto of committing Europe to ‘the social market economy’. It was a useful reminder of the ongoing challenge that advanced capitalist economies have had to face over the past 150 years: how to reconcile market iron rules with the imperatives of (social) democracy. Over the past century this historical compromise has taken on national traits and characteristics. Causes and objectives are similar across borders; agendas, timing and solutions are not, and have a distinctly national flavour. The issues that Europe is facing today are not so distinct from these past challenges; however, they are occurring in a very different context.
There is indeed a big difference: welfare state systems were constructed within distinct polities, run by national governments emanating most of the time from embryonic political parties. Governing elites were in control of economic, monetary, fiscal and budgetary policies. This is not true anymore within the European Union, in particular for those countries belonging to the eurozone. A radical division of powers between the supranational institutions and national governments deprives the former of most competences over welfare policies, while the latter has limited powers in the field of economic regulation (and, for the eurozone countries, no monetary powers).