'Out with the old, in with the new?'

The European Voice is the leading specialist newspaper for European affairs. On 31 May, it featured a special report on Europe’s social model. “The traditional social model for Europe is under threat as never before,” opens its leading article by Ian Wishart, but what is the European social model? Although it varies across the continent, “there are some common themes: pensions, education, healthcare and welfare support are provided ... by the state.” However, the article goes on to say: “there are two large – and interlinked – problems ... First, it is expensive. Second, it is holding back Europe’s competitiveness”, the article asserts. Other familiar challenges are also identified: “pressure from migrants seeking work”; “an ageing of the population and a slowing ... birth-rate”.

However, the European Voice observes an adaptation of the social model, rather than abolition. Elements of 'flexicurity' have come into the labour market models of Northern Europe, while the sovereign debt crisis is now leading to labour law and pension reforms in the South, some of which were agreed in exchange for bail-outs. The article concludes: “The continuation [of the social model] may largely depend on whether politicians can convince their electorates that change is essential, and on whether they can come up with an alternative that can be both competitive and protective.”

Given the scope of the article, it is in ESN’s view rather surprising that the Europe 2020 Strategy is not mentioned, given that two of the five headline targets depend on the success of the social model: reducing early school-leaving and lifting 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion. There is certainly a story to tell there since the education and social inclusion targets are unlikely to be reached unless there is an economic turn-around and political commitment for social investment. Whilst the coverage of the model is addressed, the approach is not: there has been a progressive shift in public services towards empowerment and activation of citizens, not only passive protection from life’s risks; the balance of provision has also shifted from larger institutions to smaller community-based services.

Prevention is recognised in an article focused on the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing. Swedish MEP Christofer Fjellner is quoted: “We invest too much in making ill people better, rather than ensuring people don’t get ill.” A similar argument could be made in relation to wider care needs for older people and indeed poverty and social exclusion for all age groups. ESN’s recent response to a Commission-led discussion with stakeholders cites persuasive findings about investment in the early years of life and examples of savings made through greater focus on prevention and empowerment through community-based services.

Read the European Voice’s articles here: