Wednesday, 06 April 2016 16:12

WP 6/2016 The European Social Union: a missing but necessary “political good”

M. Ferrera - ABSTRACT

Just like security and peace, organized solidarity is a key political good for a stable and effective functioning of both the market and democracy and for mediating their inevitable tensions. In historical perspective, the national systems of social protection can be seen as the end result of a long process of ‘bounding’, ‘bonding’ and “binding” . During the twentieth century, the consolidation of territorial borders and of “nationality” filters (bounding) fed increasingly stronger sharing dispositions (bonding) among citizens, allowing for the establishment of compulsory mass social insurance (binding). In the absence of strong state boundaries eliciting mutual ties among insiders, the political production of organized solidarity (i.e. public welfare systems with high redistributive capacity) would have been impossible. As highlighted by the so-called ‘state-building school’ on political development, the formation of the European Union is partly replicating – under drastically changed circumstanced – the process of boundary-building which, starting from the sixteenth century, led to the modern system of nation-states (Bartolini 2005; Ferrera 2005; Flora 2000). This time around, however, the bounding–bonding-binding nexus is considerably more complicated and its activation cannot be taken for granted. While incisively re-drawing economic boundaries, the EU has indeed adopted a growing number of social provisions -some of them binding. But the construction of a “Social Europe” is faced with a daunting mission, as it involves putting in place a new, socially-friendly boundary configuration by working at the margin of the traditional and highly resilient set of state boundaries, nation-based bonds and binding redistributive schemes. This means engaging in dangerous balancing acts between “opening” and “closure”, with a view to cultivating pan-European sharing ties and crafting at least a minimally adequate system of inter-territorial and inter-personal redistribution, without however jeopardizing national systems. In the absence of a modicum of collectively organized solidarity, a complex and heterogeneous institutional construction such as the EMU is unlikely to reach viable levels of political stability.
This paper has four aims and sections. The first is to redefine analytically the very ambiguous notion of Social Europe and to identify its various components. The second is to connect this analytical redefinition
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with the idea of a European Social Union (ESU) which I currently see as the most promising project for re-organizing solidarity on a European scale. The third aim is discuss some normative principles which might underpin the most delicate dimension of the ESU project, i.e. encouraging cross-national bonding and binding. The fourth section will finally try to highlight the political rationale of such principles and explain why the ESU should be considered as a key “political good”. The conclusion wraps up and reflects on possible scenarios.

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