It was not until last October that the European Commission finally came out with its communication on strengthening the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union. The European Council had asked for such a document already a year ago.
Once again, social dimension is been put on a ready-made structure like a Band-Aid to cover the worst holes. This has been the role of the European social dimension from its birth.
The founders of the European Economic Community saw that social questions had no place in the European integration. Social policy was left to the member states to administer nationally. The ‘Social Dimension’ came into discussion only 25 years ago, when the Treaty of Maastricht was being prepared. That was the time of Jacques Delors being the president of the Commission and he is also very often seen as the father of the concept of social dimension. Delors saw – and quite right – that the only way to get through the agenda of internal market and deeper integration was to take account of the citizens’ concerns about employment and social protection.
The results of this change of thinking were seen in the ‘Social Protocol’ that was added to the Maastricht Treaty and which gave the social partners and their social dialogue a role in the EU decision making system. It was also seen in the Amsterdam Treaty that confirmed high level of employment as one of the main objects of the Union. Also the infamous Lisbon Program that should have made EU the most competitive economic area in the world by 2012 had concrete targets for employment.
After that, the social dimension was transformed to something totally different. In 2008, when the European elite were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the third phase of the EMU, they declared that the most necessary social reforms were to increase the supply of the workforce and to increase the incentives to take work – like lowering the levels of the unemployment benefits. That was the social dimension of the EMU. When the economic crisis then hit with the social and political consequences, the leaders had to change their style.
Social Dimension only a decoration to cover the legitimacy crisis
The real social dimension has never been an intrinsic part of the economic union. What is added later as an exterior part can also be removed easily. Only in times when popular support is needed for the present policies, has social dimension been taken down from the attic and the dust blown away. The real problem is that social dimension is again added as a decoration to already existing structures, such as the austerity policy and the economic governance.
It is no coincidence that the recent revival of the social dimension is happening on the eve of the European elections. The present economic crisis in Europe is accompanied by a political crisis. Different anti-European and nationalistic parties are gaining support throughout the member states. Common denominator for all these parties is that their success is based on the frustration of the people with the deteriorating economic situation and the politicians that seem to have forgotten the problems of the ordinary people.
The European leaders have noticed that there is a crisis of legitimacy and they are worried of the consequences. However, their remedies are not the right ones. The present crisis cannot be solved by adding an extra “social dimension” to the present policies. The only sustainable solution is to change the way the decisions are made in the Union.
Return to ordinary procedures – and beyond – is needed
The lack of democratic preparation of decisions and transparency was culminated in the way that the Euro crisis was taken care of. The leaders of the member states made hasty decisions in secret meetings with very little democratic control– either of the European parliament or the national parliaments. When the desirable results could not be achieved in the framework of the normal EU structures, the leaders resorted to intergovernmental agreements. The goal justified the means.
Our first demand now should be that the European leaders should get back to the ordinary procedures of the EU, where there at least is some democratic control by the European Parliament and the national parliaments. The role of the national parliaments in the EU policy has become more and more important. The great problem is that their opportunities to control the doings of the ministers and heads of state vary hugely from country to country. I can quite proudly say that the Finnish Parliament, Eduskunta, is among the ones with most power. The lacking power of the national parliaments is not a problem that the EU can solve. It is something that must be worked out nationally in the respective member states.
However, coming back to the normal EU decision making procedures is definitely not enough to solve the present multifaceted crisis. The European Union has been suffering of a culture of secrecy. Secret decision making is very convenient for the leaders. However, this way of governing is getting less and less convenient, when the leaders have to meet the dissatisfied citizens.
Only a truly transparent way of preparing decisions could guarantee that the will of the people would be heard in the decision making. That would also mean that the social dimension would become an essential part of all the policies, because that would be the demand of the citizens.
Presentation at the seminar: ”Alter EU: The social dimension of the EMU and beyond”. Fri 28.3.2014.