ABSTRACT - The nation-based welfare state (NBWS) and the European Union (EU) are two precious legacies of the XX 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 is 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. The aim of this paper is to cast new light on such issues by focussing on the intellectual and political logics which have guided WS-building, on the one hand, and EU-building, on the other, and by highlighting the responsibility of these two logics in generating the clash. Drawing on Weber’s insights on the relationship between values, ideas, and politics, the building blocks of a new analytical framework will be briefly sketched, aimed at reconnecting these three elements in the explanation of the current predicament.
The paper is organised as follows. The next section presents the topic and summarizes the state of the art of the debate. I will then revisit some key Weberian concepts and theoretical propositions which promise to cast new light on the “clash” problem, moving beyond contemporary neo-institutional approaches. In the subsequent two sections, first the intellectual and then the political logics which have guided the development of the welfare state at the national level and the process of supranational economic integration will be illustrated, with brief historical surveys. The fourth section will offer a re-interpretation of the euro crisis in neo-Weberian terms and will hint at some possible ways out. The conclusion wraps up.