Social convergence and EU accession

28-09-2017

The European Pillar of Social Rights should serve as a 'compass for a renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions in the EU Member States'. Convergence of policies, regimes and outcomes happens either by 'growing together' or 'catching up'. There is, however, no consensus in the literature concerning the effect of European integration on welfare states. It is also difficult to discern whether European policy or the extent of its domestic implementation led to a certain result. While analysing gross domestic product and income levels alongside the social expenditure of individual Member States are the most common ways of measuring social convergence, new methods for producing synthetic measures and indexes emerge. Recently, in addition to countries' different starting points in terms of their history, institutional, political, economic and cultural contexts, the importance of micro-politics and micro-sociology are stressed as an explanation of different paths of development. For better policy design, a move beyond analyses based on traditional groupings of welfare regimes is suggested. Although both modern Spain and Portugal, and the central and eastern European countries, developed from authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, their social convergence paths differed greatly. In Spain and Portugal, the transition towards democratic stabilisation that began in the mid-1970s was further encouraged by EU accession. The countries followed distinct paths, but both experienced upward convergence. Following the 2008 crisis, however, their situation deteriorated steadily. Central and eastern European countries entered the accession process with many institutional, political and social challenges stemming from their transition to democracy since 1989. Their social convergence varied following accession, but was generally weak. After 2008, social convergence in the Baltic States declined greatly, but picked up quickly later, while the other countries showed some progress up to 2011, before deteriorating.

The European Pillar of Social Rights should serve as a 'compass for a renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions in the EU Member States'. Convergence of policies, regimes and outcomes happens either by 'growing together' or 'catching up'. There is, however, no consensus in the literature concerning the effect of European integration on welfare states. It is also difficult to discern whether European policy or the extent of its domestic implementation led to a certain result. While analysing gross domestic product and income levels alongside the social expenditure of individual Member States are the most common ways of measuring social convergence, new methods for producing synthetic measures and indexes emerge. Recently, in addition to countries' different starting points in terms of their history, institutional, political, economic and cultural contexts, the importance of micro-politics and micro-sociology are stressed as an explanation of different paths of development. For better policy design, a move beyond analyses based on traditional groupings of welfare regimes is suggested. Although both modern Spain and Portugal, and the central and eastern European countries, developed from authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, their social convergence paths differed greatly. In Spain and Portugal, the transition towards democratic stabilisation that began in the mid-1970s was further encouraged by EU accession. The countries followed distinct paths, but both experienced upward convergence. Following the 2008 crisis, however, their situation deteriorated steadily. Central and eastern European countries entered the accession process with many institutional, political and social challenges stemming from their transition to democracy since 1989. Their social convergence varied following accession, but was generally weak. After 2008, social convergence in the Baltic States declined greatly, but picked up quickly later, while the other countries showed some progress up to 2011, before deteriorating.