If achieving a European Social Union means developing a fairer society for all its citizens (and also for non-citizens who come to live here), the causes of ‘unfairness’ and of inequality-producing mechanisms, including those created by the Union itself, should be tackled.eurovisions.eu
The argument for a European Social Union rather than for a ‘social dimension’ of the EU is both a necessary and radical shift of focus. This position is possibly even more radical than was anticipated at the start of this debate, in so far that it requires moving beyond the necessary, but limited, focus on redistribution and on the respective responsibilities of national welfare states and of the EU – i.e., beyond the full implementation of the European Social Pillar, however important that may be. Taking up Vandenbroucke’s idea that “for the Pillar to have an impact on EU policy-making, a first condition is that its raison d’être is sufficiently powerful”, my thesis is that its raison d’être is to use its role as a supra-national space and player to develop instruments which contrast unjust inequalities. If achieving a European Social Union means developing a fairer society for all its citizens (and also for non-citizens who come to live here), the causes of ‘unfairness’ and of inequality-producing mechanisms, including those created by the Union itself, should be tackled. It is not only a matter of balancing ‘active’ vs ‘passive’ measures, ‘enabling’ vs ‘compensating’, or ‘protecting’ policies, nor simply ‘insuring’ against social risks. Rather, it is also, and foremost, a matter of intervening in the socially structured and often legally underpinned drivers of inequality at the distributive level: where income and wealth are accessed and accumulated in ways and according to rules that are far from being always fair.
Why inequality is increasing and why we cannot afford it
In developed, democratic societies, inequality has now reached heights unknown since the post-War years, as documented by a vast literature, including the OECD reports of the last 15 years, albeit in different degrees across countries. This process has also involved the traditionally more egalitarian countries, such as Sweden which, until the 1970s, was the most egalitarian country within the developed countries; however, according to Goran Therborn, it is now one of the most unequal with regard to wealth and only average with regard to income.