The European Social Model is being undermined by unelected European bureaucrats in institutions such as the European Central Bank and the European Commission. It is unjust, unfair and indefensible that a core element of the EU should be undermined in this manner by people and institutions with no mandate to do so.
It is clear that the European Social Model must be adjusted to make it more appropriate for the twenty first century. But there is no justification for it to be undermined.
These were some of the observations at Social Justice Ireland’s annual Policy Conference at Croke Park, today, July 3, 2012.
The conference, attended by more than 100 people from all over Ireland, addressed the topic, ‘Does the European Social Model have a future?
Speakers from Ireland, Belgium and the UK addressed the challenges that currently face the European Social Model and identified key aspects of a model more appropriate for the twenty first century.
Government and Opposition politicians also addressed this question in a lively Round-Table.
European Central bank and European Commission
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal Mario Draghi, President of the ECB and former Goldman Sachs banker said that austerity measures "will involve giving up the European Social Model".
All those committed to a fair and just EU should reject this claim and the policies that are causing it. While austerity may be necessary it is possible, indeed essential, to protect the vulnerable in all the decisions being made.
The recent European Commission Staff Review of Ireland’s bailout programme also makes proposals that are not consistent with maintaining the European Social Model.
Call for National Debate on the future Ireland seeks
In a paper presented to the conference Seán Healy, Brigid Reynolds and Michelle Murphy of Social Justice Ireland argued that the primacy given to the market by so many politicians, analysts, policy makers and commentators has led to the present hugely unbalanced development which undermines the European Social Model by paying €billions to unsecured unguaranteed bondholders while essential services are eroded and infrastructure is being run down.
They argued that Ireland urgently needs a national debate on the level of services and infrastructure Irish people want, on how such development is to be financed and how it is to be delivered. This debate should involve all stakeholders.
They also outlined proposals to ensure the European Social Model should develop in a manner fit for purpose in the twenty first century. These proposals covered areas such as income, work, participation, sustainability, education, health, accommodation, culture and social capital.
In setting out their proposals they argued that the core of the European Social Model was that economic progress and social progress were inseperable. This should be recognised by all involved and policy developed on this basis.
Speaking at the conference Professor Ide Kearney of the ESRI analysed two key challenges that must be addressed if Ireland is to have any positive outcome to its present difficulties: the very high levels of debt and unemployment.
She concluded that: “Ireland is being forced to implement pro-cyclical policies which serve to deepen the recession. If growth were to prove less than assumed by the Department of Finance, it would not be sufficient to stabilise the Debt to GDP ratio before 2015. Ireland is in danger of a lost decade.”
Professor Tony Fahey, Head of Social Policy at UCD, pointed to the fact that the Beveridge Report had first been published in Britain in 1942, in the middle of a war.
”Yet Beveridge was convinced that what was needed at that time was radical change. What he presented was a noble but attainable vision of how peace-time society should be organised. Today we are at a very difficult moment but perhaps it is the opportune time to re-imagine the European Social Model” Professor Fahey added.
Policies to promote well-being and the common good
Professor Philippe Van Parijis of the University of Louvain, argued that if Europe, especially the Eurozone, was to reject a race to the bottom then it would have to introduce a Guaranteed Basic Income for all its citizens (set at appropriate levels in different countries).
This would eliminate dependency traps and ensure that work always paid. He emphasised the need for all groups in society to develop a common ethos of contribution to the common good.
Anna Coote from the New Economics Foundation (London) argued that we should seize the moment to promote radical change for the common good.
She outlined the need for a major transition to an economy that serves the interests of people and the planet, rather than the other way around.
She identified three key areas in which Europe needs major change: (i); growing the ‘core’ economy – the human resources that comprise and sustain people’s everyday lives but which for the most part are unpaid and undervalued; (ii) in the organisation and distribution of paid and unpaid work; and (iii) in moving from cure to prevention in order to ensure the development of a just and sustainable world.
This would enable services to be delivered in a much more sustainable manner which would involve all service ‘providers’ and ‘users’ in securing their development together.
A book containing the papers of the conference will be published later today. Copies may be purchased from Socialk Justice Ireland for €15. It will be available for free download on this website in due course.