Changes in European Welfare: New Forms of Citizenship in Europe

1. Introduction

In this paper we ask what consequences on-going changes in European welfare states have for social citizenship. These changes include greater economic openness and scope for cross-border mobility, shift in governments’ role from redistribution to social regulation of markets, neoliberalism and individualisation, the growing significance of human rights and anti-discrimination and new transnational channels for citizens’ participation.
After a review of these changes in contemporary welfare states we will outline an analytical framework to capture the implications of these changes for social citizenship. We expect shifts in the relative weight of different dimensions of citizens’ relations to the welfare state, as well as new hybrid forms of citizenship. Finally, we will illustrate these implications on the basis of a comparative study of citizenship in a number of European countries and within the European Union. Many of the implications can be summarised as a move toward active citizenship.

2. Challenges to Contemporary Welfare States

Many observers believe that the ‘stateness’ of contemporary welfare states is challenged ‘from above’, whether ‘above’ is called globalization, Europeanization or denationalization. They believe that this condition limits the de facto sovereignty of national governments, requires stricter budgetary discipline and new regulative measures, narrows the range of legitimate policy options and instruments at the state level, and shifts the balance between politics, markets and international courts as sources of material advantage, security and protection against risks.
But, arguably, national welfare states also face pressures ‘from below’. Citizens are challenging long-established bureaucratic or paternalistic modes of administration, rigidity and inflexibility — as well as the arbitrary exercise of discretionary powers. People have become more knowledgeable, self-confident and conscious of their rights when dealing with front-line agency staff and professional helpers. They expect to have the option of influencing decisions relating to their own welfare, whether these options are expressed through co-determination, user involvement, informed consent, group consultation or freedom of choice. The emerging regime of international human rights, along with the more particular development of institutions in the European context, gives more force and legitimacy to these expectations.
The outcome of these processes is complex and sometimes paradoxical changes in the relations between state and citizens. Citizens are expected (and themselves expect) to play more active roles in handling risks and promoting their own welfare. In some respects the move towards active citizenship corresponds to a more active role for the state; in other respects, it involves a more passive role for the state. Increasingly limitations of the scope for encompassing and redistributive welfare states (like the Nordic ones) leave more to the agency of citizens. Individual responsibility for achieving self-sufficiency, protection against risks, and the active use of available opportunities in the market becomes more important.

3. Economic Openness and Europeanization

With a more open and globalized world market, stronger competitive pressures, and economic integration in Europe, national governments have the impetus to take steps to prevent further growth or even reduce public spending. Many argue that ‘large’ encompassing and redistributive welfare states in particular have become too expensive — and therefore unsustainable — in a more competitive world, including the emerging single European market. Governments attempt to reduce costs and increase the effectiveness of existing public services, in combination with changing labour market conditions. Even in countries where public authorities have for a long time been the main provider of services, governments attempt to leave more to markets and private providers (e.g. by putting services out to open tender) and to encourage citizens to take greater individual responsibility for social risk protection (e.g. by offering partial tax exemption for personal pension plans).
With regard to these processes, scholars like Majone have argued that we will see a gradual shift of emphasis from redistributive welfare provision to promoting welfare objectives through ‘social regulation’ (Majone, 1993). Social regulation involves public efforts to influence the behaviour of non-governmental players, especially players operating in the market, in order to promote the realization of social objectives. Generally speaking, social regulation has the potential to strenghten citizens’ scope for exercising active citizenship through their participation in the market as workers and consumers.
Examples of social regulation include non-discrimination legislation and the setting of what the European Union defines as binding standards for universal design, meant to promote participation and equal opportunities for people with impairments (disabilities). Such regulative measures help to correct market imperfections or the undesirable consequences of unrestricted market competition, even if the need for correcting market failures is not necessarily the main impetus for introducing these measures (Majone, 2005). Compared with the introduction of new tax-financed redistributive provisions, social regulation is more compatible with an opening and liberalization of international markets (Hvinden, 2004). The existence of observable significant weakening of the redistributive effects of national welfare schemes or of increased inequalities after taxes and social transfers resulting from European integration is a complex issue that falls outside the scope of this paper.
In the on-going Europeanization process, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has become an important player. The ECJ has taken on an active role in clarifying and eliminating the implications of common EU regulations for social policies (Leibfried 2005; Pollack 2003). The ECJ has made many decisions (under the single-market regulations) that have had substantial impact. For instance it has effectively extended EU citizens’ rights to have the authorities in their own country reimburse the costs of medical treatment in other member states (Ferrera, 2005; de Burca, 2005).
The European Commission is another significant player within the field of European welfare policy, as it has the authority to propose new European legislation. The Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 gave the European Union power to combat discrimination on a number of different grounds and the Commission later proposed two related directives in 2000, complementing earlier EU legislation against gender discrimination. The first directive implements the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial and ethnic origin (Council Directive, 2000/43/EC). The second directive establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, covering discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (Council Directive, 2000/78/EC). Member states are introducing laws — new or amended — and administrative provisions necessary to comply with these directives. The Commission supervises and monitors this ‘transposition’ of the two EU directives.
The Commission also has the power to initiate joint action programmes in the social field (EU, 1997). An ambition of several of these programmes has been to achieve greater similarity or convergence in the objectives of the social protection of member states, through what is now known as ‘the open method of coordination’. Although member states should agree on overall joint objectives, especially regarding the future direction of their schemes, they are free to choose the means necessary for accomplishing these objectives. The European Union has for instance developed programmes based on the open method of coordination in the areas of employment, pensions and social inclusion.
Following earlier initiatives from the OECD, the employment and inclusion programmes of the EU have emphasized the need to shift from ‘passive’ to ‘active’ policies. the primary goal of social protection schemes should be to promote labour market participation among people of working age. Only for those who cannot work at all should the main objective be to provide adequate and secure income support. A key goal is to make social protection schemes more ‘employment-friendly’, including to ‘make work pay’ and to ensure that the conditions, level and duration of benefits do not create disincentives to work. Similarly, the EU and the OECD declare that national governments should improve the ‘employability’ (skills, knowledge, etc.) of those who are at risk of becoming permanently excluded from economic activity and self-sufficiency. Likewise, governments should make continued payment of benefits for people of working age conditional on their accepting offers to take part in employment training measures, training courses, etc. Thus various forms of ‘activation’ of protection schemes, as well as of recipients of cash benefits or of citizens out of paid work should play a key role. As we will see, reforms of this kind are highly relevant for what we call active citizenship according to a socio-liberal understanding (Chs 4, 5 and 6).
In the case of old age pensions, achieving ‘sustainability’ means ensuring that the working population will not face disproportionate and unrealistic financial burdens resulting from the design of ‘pay as you go systems’, combined with populations ageing and insufficient economic growth. One way or the other, people must downscale their expectations of the level of their future pension, whilst shouldering a greater individual responsibility for securing the purchase power of the pension.
Many researchers see the aspects of EU economic integration, legislation and action programmes that we touch upon here as exemplifying new constraints on national governments’ freedom to design and change their systems of welfare provisions as they would like (e.g. Leibfried, 2005; Ferrera, 2005). Yet we do not wish to overstate the degree to which ‘Europeanization’ has diminished the decision-making capacity of member states (Cowles, et al., 2001; Olsen 2002). Moreover, ‘social issues’ or ‘social policy’ are still marginal within the common policy-making of the European Union and secondary to the complete establishment of a single (and now enlarged) European market. The focus of the European Union’s involvement in the ‘social dimension’ has mainly been to ensure that national schemes of social protection do not impede the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour within the single market. Member states have been reluctant to give up control over their redistributive schemes like social security, employment, health and social services and have referred to the subsidiarity principle of the Maastricht Treaty. At the same time, several scholars have suggested that decision-makers at national level have not fully realized the consequences of the greater economic openness resulting from European integration (Leibfried 2005; Ferrera 2005).

Changes in European Welfare: New Forms of Citizenship in Europe: The paper builds on the project “Active citizenship and marginality in a European context” (p. no. 149819/599), funded by the Welfare State Research Programme of the Nordic Council of Ministers, 2002-2005. We give a more detailed presentation of the results in the book Citizenship in the Nordic Countries: Dynamics of Choice, Duties and Participation in a Changing Europe, Routledge 2007.
Dr. Bjørn Hvinden: Head of Research, Professor, NOVA Norwegian Social Research, P O Box 3223 Elisenberg,
Dr. Håkan Johansson: School of Health Sciences and Social Work, Växjö University, 351 95 Växjö, Sweden,

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