Prizes and Crises
In 2012 the EU won a Nobel Peace Prize “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”. Today the same EU is in a systemic crisis, with far-reaching consequences for the European project and Europe’s role in the world.
Especially the current state of the euro zone shows to which extent the EU’s image and the “European dream” are at stake: instead of growing stability and prosperity, many member states face serious economic problems, increasing unemployment rates and failing governments.
The time has come for a critical revision of the political economy of European integration.
Recognising the need for both institutional reform and strong policy coordination, the EU has adopted a new ten-year growth strategy: Europe2020 . Revising the similar but failed Lisbon Strategy , Europe2020 aims at a smarter, more sustainable, and more inclusive type of economic and political development in Europe. Key issues here are innovation, the digital economy, employment, youth, industrial policy, poverty, and resource efficiency. At the same time, principles like solidarity, social cohesion and the social market economy are emphasized as constitutional for the EU’s social dimension.
A new EU narrative?
Parallel to these reform efforts, a large international debate on a “new” (or at least updated) narrative of the European project has emerged. Without prejudice to the historical raison d’être of the European integration process, there is a new quest for stories and visions that can connect and inspire people across Europe today.
“Social Europe” as Idea(l)
Yet the scene seems paradoxical. One of the hot candidates for a widely shared vision of “a better Europe” has remained so far one of the least elaborated European narratives: “Social Europe”. This keyword stands for an audacious vision: a Europe-wide political space of socially just institutions and protected socio-economic rights that increase people’s ability to shape the conditions under which they live and work.
To date, however, “EU-topias” of “Social Europe” are rare among the many alternative concepts of European integration. Historically, there seem to be three main reasons for this. Firstly, there has been a long absence of concrete plans for a common, or at least harmonised, social policy at European level. Secondly, it was a long-held view that a harmonisation of social systems and living conditions (i.e. something like a “Social Europe”) would automatically result from the gradual creation of a common market. Thirdly, there was, and still is, tremendous skepticism towards quasi-utopian social theory; can visions be a compass for real politics?
For the moment, it is clear that the current EU crisis has put social policy back on the agenda of European politics. Therefore, it is not obsolete but highly topical, although ambitious, to ask: Can we outline, and argue for, credible scenarios of a sustainable “Social Europe” in the global age?
The Political Economy of “Social Europe”
The Dilthey Fellowship Research Project headed by PD Dr. Wolfgang M. Schröder takes this topic as a challenge for political philosophy. Based on interdisciplinary research and cooperation, the project has three main targets:
- to analyse politico-economic advantages and disadvantages of the present distribution of competences for social policy in the EU more-level system;
- to explore in this respect new options for the further development of the “open method of coordination” (OMC) in European policy making;
- to sketch constitutional principles and scenarios for a sustainable “Social Europe” in the global age.
Located at the Philosophy Department of the University of Tübingen, the research project is funded by the Pro Geisteswissenschaften Initiative (jointly supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Volkswagen Foundation with a total of 400,000 Euros.