Accueil » 56-4 ( 2001) » Quelques réflexions sur un modèle social européen

Quelques réflexions sur un modèle social européen

Jean-Michel Servais


L’auteur livre quelques réflexions personnelles sur la spécificité de la réponse européenne à la question sociale telle qu’elle se pose aujourd’hui. Davantage qu’une émanation de la politique de l’Union européenne, il voit dans le modèle social européen un patrimoine commun aux peuples de l’Europe en matière d’emploi et de travail. Ce concept traduit une triple réalité : une régulation sociale fondée sur la concertation ; un régime élaboré de protection sociale et l’existence de services publics à finalité sociale, ainsi qu’un interventionnisme actif de l’État en matières industrielle, économique et sociale. Si ce modèle doit faire face à des critiques et à des difficultés, l’évolution semble davantage aller dans le sens de son adaptation que dans celui de sa disparition.


Reflections on the European Social Model

What is meant by the European social model? Is it a specifically European way of viewing and addressing social questions or, rather, a set of common institutions and practices established at the European Union level? The author is of the opinion that it is still the former.

Admittedly, a European “social dimension” already exists, and it would be wrong to down play its importance. A Community social policy has been built up on treaties as well as on the instruments derived from them: free movement of workers and persons in general; social security for migrant workers and European citizens travelling in the European Union; promotion of equality of opportunities and treatment; emergence of minimum social standards, or even standards leading to harmonization pure and simple (for example, on occupational safety and health); and the setting up of social dialogue with European collective agreements and European Works Councils.

In the final analysis, however, this specifically European form of protection remains limited. Firstly, some directives such as that on European Works Councils are essentially concerned with the supranational level. Furthermore, other European instruments may embody not very exacting standards which may well, for political if not legal reasons, end up amending and weakening national rules and regulations at one time more favourable to workers. Then there are the limits placed on the European Union’s scope of action as well as its political and economic strategies.

The author considers that the European social concept reflects three historical realities. The first is that of social regulation based on centralized consultation and dialogue, which may be bipartite or tripartite. Whatever the number of parties involved, State institutions are never indifferent to the outcome of the negotiations in which the social actors have participated. While it is true that tripartite agreements and other forms of high-level social pacts have been, and are, observed in other regions of the world, no other region has resorted as much to dialogue, be it formal or informal, at the central level.

The second reality is an elaborate social security system including, where appropriate, provision of a minimum guaranteed income and other forms of labour protection (establishment of a minimum wage, for example). This also includes public services provided by the State in the social and economic spheres (industrial, commercial, etc.).

The third reality, related closely to the two others, is State intervention in industrial, economic and social matters, and in collaboration with the social partners, the search for consensus in the elaboration and in the implementation of such policies.

It is important that this common achievement should not be permitted to mask the clear differences that exist between countries in the region. Nevertheless, the concept of a European social model undoubtedly expresses some degree of political culture held in common: Europeans are reluctant to accept phenomena of exclusion and excessive disparities; they expect the State to act in order to remedy the social consequences of the mechanical operation of the market economy (they wish to find answers to the so-called “social question”).

It goes without saying that this European social model, like others, reacts to changing times and undergoes crises, especially in a period of globalization. In particular, no government has identified successful policies to face the problems of social exclusion and pauperization of a significant minority of the active population. The observation also applies to almost all countries of the world.

Nevertheless, on the basis of a number of recent cases, it is concluded that the trend seems to be more of an adjustment of the European approach than its disappearance or its replacement by another model.


Algunas reflexiones sobre un modelo social europeo

El autor libra algunas reflexiones personales sobre la especificidad de la respuesta europea a la cuestión social tal como ésta se plantea ahora. Mas que una emanación de la política de la Unión Europea, él ve en el modelo social europeo un patrimonio común de los pueblos de Europa en materia de empleo y trabajo. Este concepto traduce una triple realidad : una regulación social basada en la concertación; un régimen elaborado de protección social y la existencia de servicios públicos con finalidad social, así como un intervencionismo activo del estado en materia industrial, económica y social. Aunque ese modelo deba hacer frente a diferentes criticas y dificultades, su evolución parece ir mas en el sentido de su adaptación que de su desaparición.