M. Ferrera, forthcoming in F. Vandenbroucke (ed.), A Social Union after the Crisis, Cambridge: Cambridge University press
in Constellations, Vol. 21, Issue 2, 2014, pp. 222–238.
The nation-based welfare state (NBWS) and the European Union (EU) are two precious legacies of the 20th century. Their mutual relationship is however fraught by unresolved tensions (and a potential “clash”), which the recent crisis has been markedly exacerbating. When, how and why did the original “elective affinity” between the WS and the EU spheres start to weaken? Is “reconciliation” possible and how? These questions lie at the centre of current academic and public debates. The WS serves essential economic, social and political functions. But the financing of its programmes strains public budgets and raises sustainability challenges, especially in the wake of growing demographic ageing. The EU (EMU in particular) is in its turn essential for growth, jobs and macro-economic stability, but tends to undermine the WS’s very institutional foundation: the sovereign right of the state to determine the boundaries, forms and extent of national solidarity, including tax and spending levels. The aim of this article is to cast new light on such issues by focusing on the “intellectual” logic which has guided WS-building, on the one hand, and EU-building, on the other, and by highlighting the responsibility of this logic in generating the clash. Drawing on Weber’s insights on the relationship between ideas, values and politics, I will try to reconnect these three elements for interpreting the current predicament and for putting forward some suggestions on how to overcome it. The article is organised as follows. The next section presents the topic and the approach. The second section illustrates the ideational logics which have guided, respectively, the development of the welfare state at the national level and the process of economic integration at the supranational level. The
third and fourth sections will in turn summarize my diagnosis and outline an agenda for intellectual “work” on both the epistemic and axiological fronts, which I see as a prerequisite for responsible and effective political choices. The conclusion wraps up.