Changes in European Welfare: New Forms of Citizenship in Europe

4. The Incorporation of Human Rights in National Legislation

The development of an international regime of human rights and protection against discrimination has important implications for the rights, opportunities and scope of citizen participation. We will briefly point to some important examples:
• The United Nations convention on elimination of all discrimination against women (The Women’s Convention 1979) has — through ratification by national governments — granted women stronger formal protection.
• The adoption of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has given children stronger formal rights than existed in most countries beforehand (UN Doc A/44/49 1989).
• A new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006, and are currently under ratification form Member States (A/RES/61/106 (2007)).
• Earlier international conventions on the rights of indigenous populations have for instance strengthened the rights of the Sami in Northern Europe and of the Inuits in Greenland (ILO 1989). Other groups like Travellers, Romani people and Jews have similarly achieved stronger legal protection against ethnic discrimination through the adoption of the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ETS No. 157).
The overall impact of the emerging international regime of human rights and protection against discrimination has probably yet to be fully acknowledged, mapped and assessed. Most significantly, these developments appear to substantially improve the ‘opportunity structures’ (Tarrow 2003) of individuals and groups. Generally speaking, opportunity structures refer to institutional, political and legal environments that can encourage or discourage individual and collective action by affecting players’ expectations for success or failure. In our context, these structures may involve improved possibilities of achieving recognition from public authorities and of presenting claims against either public agencies or non-governmental players.
From this perspective, the transnational codification and strengthening of these rights seem to open up more active forms of citizenship, however it presupposes that people are aware of and knowledgeable about their rights and have the necessary resources for presenting claims. A related issue is whether there are bodies or organizations that can supervise implementation of — and monitor compliance with — the duties or requirements that these rights imply (Hvinden and Halvorsen, 2004).
Recently researchers have argued that the emergence of transnational regimes of human rights and non-discrimination provisions challenges the democratic dimension of the relationship between the (national) welfare state and its citizens (e.g. Østerud, et al., 2003). However, the emergence of these regimes does not point exclusively towards a weakening of the democratic basis for national welfare states. We suggest that this regime strengthens the opportunities for citizens to exercise agency in relation to the welfare state and, in particular, to strengthen the position and capabilities of minorities and others whom the previous and existing policies of nation states have marginalized or excluded. We see a potential for enriching social and political citizenship, contributing to improved conditions for full citizenship for a larger proportion of the total population, in terms of rights and responsibilities, freedom of choice and participation. Such a contribution is significant, not only for concerns for equality of living conditions or economic efficiency but also for considerations concerning democracy.

5. Individualization

As we have seen, contemporary welfare states face various challenges ‘from below’. Widely accepted diagnoses of late-modern societies see a trend towards individualization and detraditionalization (e.g. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, Beck and Willms, 2004). These are complex concepts that involve something greater and different from individuals becoming more egoistic, self-centred or simply occupied with their own well-being. One key argument is that traditional and more spontaneous forms of community, collectivity and solidarity between people have lost much of their practical significance. The late modern individual is increasingly becoming decoupled from these kinds of social units, while spontaneous development of community and solidarity between people is found more rarely. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (ibid.) suggest that ‘solidarity’ increasingly can only be achieved through the determined and conscious efforts of individuals, based on their knowledge, skills and capacity for reflection, and their ability to negotiate a common understanding of the premises for the community or collective action. To the extent that people succeed in such efforts, the resulting community is likely to be more fleeting than more traditional and spontaneous forms of collectivity. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim picture the individual as ‘manufacturing’ his or her personal identity or personal biography as a ‘do-it-yourself’ biography. These discussions have important implications for current concerns in many welfare states.
First, redistributive welfare states like the Nordic ones have substantially contributed to the trend towards individualization, by providing individualized rights. They have thus made the individual less dependent on his or her family and kin, neighbourhood and local community as sources of help and support (Trädgårdh, 1997; Esping-Andersen, 1999; Supiot, 2004; Beck and Willms, 2004). At the same time individualization potentially undermines the social solidarity on which these welfare states are based. For instance, individualization can contribute to pressures for reducing the overall scope of such schemes and replacing them with a greater reliance on individual responsibility for protection against loss of income and other risks (e.g. through different forms of individual saving, private insurance or pension plans).
But individualization does not necessarily preclude popular support for and acceptance of redistributive public provisions. Rather it implies that the population regularly needs to reassess and confirm its support for such arrangements. That an arrangement has been in operation for a long time is not an argument for its continued existence. Political and organizational rationales require renewal for sustaining their legitimacy. Individualization will particularly challenge social benefit systems that presuppose a long-term perspective and a fairly stable joint understanding between the affected parties. For instance, public pension systems that are not based on earlier payment into funds but mainly operate on ‘pay as you go’ principles presuppose an ‘inter-generational contract’. According to the individualization perspective such contracts are largely a normative fiction. The willingness of new generations to comply with the expectation that they will cover the pension entitlements of earlier generations depends on whether they perceive their financial burden as reasonable and fair. If people believe that pension arrangements entail a disproportional redistribution across generations, this belief contributes to the political urgency of pension reforms.
More generally, the individualization perspective indicates that no one can take for granted the legitimacy of established systems of social protection, despite their having been envisioned as lasting for a long time. Thus governments may soon face the task of facilitating broader public participation in discussions about the premises, objectives, ambitions and time horizons of such systems. Such public participation would also make it easier for governments to avoid what affected parties would perceive as broken promises and ‘moving the goal posts in the middle of the game’.
Second, the strengthening of human rights and protection against discrimination, combined with citizen awareness of these legislative changes, may reinforce rights consciousness and litigation on the part of citizens. Arguably, courts are to some extent replacing politically elected and accountable bodies as arenas for deciding who should get what. Based on this development especially in the US some scholars have warned that even Nordic countries will experience a looser link between decisions made by political bodies and the actual distribution of income and social well-being (Kagan 2001; Burke 2004). Consequently, we may witness a shift of attention from questions about the socially desirable and just distribution of resources to concerns on the part of individuals and groups about how to maximize their own gains. New inequities may be the result if welfare outcomes are becoming more dependent on what resources individuals and groups can draw on in pursuing their rights through the court system.
Third, we can also see that a number of changes in public welfare provisions are based on notions of individualization (or justified in terms of this trend), and a growing emphasis on providing ‘tailor-made’ individual (action) plans to accommodate the special needs and requirements of each person. Arguments in favour of this trend are that individuals today vary more in their preferences and actual life situations and that many measures would be ineffective if they were not responsive to these particularities. By rejecting what is often termed ‘one-size-fits-all’ provisions, especially in the area of employment, social and care services, in favour of individual plans based on negotiations between provider and user, or even ‘freedom of choice’, politicians themselves may also be contributing to raising citizens’ expectations and demands for individualized solutions, that is, adding to a further strengthening of the individualization trend.

6. Self-organization

Many of the rights that citizens or groups of citizens claim have not simply been bestowed upon them. Social movements of women, ethnic minorities and people with impairments have campaigned for changes in legislation and public provision. They have increased policy-makers’ awareness of the issues, participated in the legislation and policy process, and worked to inform their constituencies about the opportunities created by new legislation and public provision. In some cases groups of citizens have even succeeded in sidestepping their national government through transnational networks, campaigning and lobbying supranational agencies or organizations to promote their case. The inclusion of the non-discrimination clause in Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty and the subsequent two directives would probably not have happened, had it not been for the active efforts of transnational networks of citizens. When such efforts are successful, reluctant national authorities then respond to pressure ‘from above’, that is, from the bodies of these supranational agencies or organizations and other member states.
More generally, organizations and advocacy groups acting on behalf of these broader social movements are of great significance in understanding the process of changing or restructuring social protection policies. This role of organizations, also found among groups in marginal positions, may be related to what we call the turn towards active citizenship according to a republican understanding. The organizations represent not only an immediate arena for social participation and self-directed activities but also, indirectly, a setting for building up self-confidence and capability for participation in the larger society and in negotiations with representatives of public authorities. The self-activity of various citizens groups is not exclusively — or even mainly — directed towards obtaining stronger rights to particular material benefits. To a great extent, their efforts are concerned with recognition and identity politics (Fraser, 2005). Several groups are struggling against public policies that have exposed them to social and cultural domination, and denied them respect and dignity, even existence. They claim the right not to be made invisible and silent, but to be heard and taken seriously by governmental bodies. In many cases, such groups insist that society recognize their difference from the majority population, in terms of culture, life style, and their right to express this difference. According to some observers, concerns with recognition have somewhat replaced issues of socioeconomic redistribution in late modern and multicultural society (e.g. Young, 1990). Others, like Fraser, have argued that social justice requires policies of both redistribution and recognition. Even so, the international trend towards recognition politics is adding to the complexity of contemporary citizenship.

7. Pressures Within

Contemporary welfare states also face substantial challenges related to demographic changes. Most Western European states have ageing populations, thus adding to the demands on social protection schemes, especially public pension schemes of the ‘pay-as-you-go’ type. Leading scholars rank demographic ageing as one of the most important ‘internal’ challenges to welfare states (e.g. Pierson, 2003; Esping-Andersen, 1999). In addition, the long-term expansion of disability income and other de facto early retirement systems have boosted the calls for modernization and reform. Many countries have introduced reforms aimed at improving the long-term sustainability of public pension schemes, tightening the eligibility rules and administrative practices for pre-retirement schemes, restraining popular demands for early leave from the labour market and even increasing the actual average retirement age. Most European governments have, however, been reluctant to open for greater immigration flows from non-western countries as means of reducing demographic ageing. Yet without the existing immigration from these countries the population of many European countries would start to diminish in a few years time.
Finally, additional demands on the social protection system are generated as family life, patterns of partnering, and parenting and working careers become more changeable and fluid. Together with the trend towards individualization and the weakening of traditional social bonds, these changes may lead to new requirements for support from social protection systems during critical phases of adult life.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Tags: , ,