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EU Election Issues: The future of the welfare state
The development of the EU has been strongly portrayed as a peace process. It has been effective in that regard and has contributed to the process of bringing democratic stabilisation to some high-risk regions of Europe.
Commitment to supporting the welfare state has been a consistent part of EU policy and strong rhetorical support continues. There is much affirmation in the EU of the 'European Social Model'. However the European Social Model is now coming under pressure on a number of fronts.
There is no one dominant model of the welfare state or one dominant 'social model'.
In recent decades a number of developments have led to questions being raised concerning the reality of this commitment.
From the 1980s onwards there has been a reaction against the ‘interventionist’ state and growing support for market fundamentalism in the EU.
There is also a questioning of the peace-building motivation for the EU.
Instead we have seen the emergence of a view that the European Union should focus on building its power and pooling its sovereignty.
This implies a very different understanding of the EU and has raised questions on whether or not it remains committed to the ‘European Social Model’ and to ensuring the continuation and strengthening of the welfare state.
In recent years there has been a growing fear that the elimination of borders across the EU would lead to a ‘race to the bottom’ where welfare provision was concerned. The evidence on this is mixed.
Recent economic pressures following from the collapse of much of the world’s financial system have led to growing calls for a reduction in social welfare rates and the cutting back of social services.
In many cases these calls are based on claims that are patently untrue e.g. that Ireland’s welfare rates are among the most generous in Europe when in fact they are at the other end of the spectrum. However the lack of data to support the claims has not stopped these claims being made. Rather they appear to emanate from a wish to see the welfare state rolled back.
The incoming European Parliament should give priority to ensuring the welfare state is protected and promoted. The recent economic collapse has highlighted the need for the European Social Model to be secured for the future.