Economic and social progress are two parts of the same,
European whole. Europe has always rested on an economic pillar
and a social pillar.
The Coal and Steel Community was the precursor of the Social
Fund. The single market had the Social Charter. The question
today is what kind of social Europe a truly global Europe
We need a modern social vision to accompany our drive for open
markets. Open markets and social solidarity are not, and should
not be, contradictory. There is no greater instrument of social
cohesion than full employment. And welfare states need to be
put on a firm financial footing to be sustainable for future
generations. To quote the start of the Commissions own
document to the Hampton Court Summit: Europe must reform
and modernize its policies to preserve its values.
We know that Europes societies are defined by their
diversity. This diversity has led different member states to
develop different social models to cope with different social
The founding member states enjoyed the trentes
glorieuses, only to see growth suddenly slow and unemployment
become a significant problem.
Central and eastern European member states endured
communist mismanagement, followed by a traumatic period of
transition in the early 1990s.
The so-called Cohesion Four (Ireland, Spain, Portugal
and Greece) saw transformation through rapid modernization,
especially after joining the EU.
The UK saw a sharp break with the post-war consensus in
the early 1980s that ended economic decline, though at a social
And northern member states turned economic crisis at the
end of the 1980s into outstanding growth performance and a
revival of interest in the Nordic Social Model.
So there is no single, European social model, although seen
from the outside, beyond Europes borders, it might look
that way; and there are common principles underpinning our
social models. Our diversity is a source of strength; it helps
us to learn from one another, and to adopt and adapt ideas that
have been proven to work.
No member states social model is perfect, but we know
that countries that have been able to reform have thrived in
the global marketplace and sustained high levels of social
justice. Social justice and economic efficiency can be mutually
supportive indeed, it is essential that they are.
So, what can the European Union, and the European Commission,
do? Not to try to centralize decisions on the future of
Europes welfare states, but rather to promote a
Europe-wide debate about them, to present facts and ideas to
show the way to the future.
We all know the backdrop to this debate: globalization. We
should acknowledge the challenges it creates: the disappearance
of traditional industrial jobs, and the problems the
lower-skilled can have in finding new jobs; the need for a
highly educated society; the risk of a new polarization for
those left behind with poor literacy and inadequate
qualifications; the emergence of new geographic and income
inequalities; the challenges of migration and integration in
But it would be a grave mistake to demonize globalization or to
exaggerate its consequences for social change. The fact is, in
recent years, social change has mainly been driven by internal
dynamics, shared by all our societies.
Europes economic transformation towards a post-industrial
knowledge and service economy is changing not only the kind of
jobs people do, but also the conditions of access to economic
opportunity; the extent of social mobility; and the incidence
of poverty and inequality.
The achievement of mass affluence and rapid economic
modernization have profoundly influenced values. We can see
this in new patterns of family life and the changing position
of women in society, for example. But this individualization
goes side by side with an increased desire for a more socially
cohesive and socially responsible society.
Rise and fall
Demographic change is resulting in declining fertility and
longer life expectancy. In 1950, 40% of EU citizens were under
25, by 2025 less than a quarter will be. In contrast, fewer
than one in 10 were over 65 in 1950; nearly one in four will be
The rise of the citizen as consumer is changing the way we
think about issues such as housing, health and public services.
It is also encouraging the emergence of new concerns like
ethical consumption. I see no evidence of citizens being less
concerned with public issues, but politicians have to admit
that participation and trust in traditional forms of politics
is in decline.
The welfare state has reshaped the quality of life for tens of
millions in our societies. But it has also created new
dependencies from which individuals can find it difficult to
Given these shared challenges, it should come as no surprise
that the European Commission proposed in May to take stock of
the social situation in the European Union, and that
Europes leaders agreed to this, with a particular
emphasis on access and opportunity. After all, it is
difficult to develop modern, forward-looking social policies
based on outdated notions of the nature of our societies and
This social reality stocktaking is already underway, and is
linked to a parallel review of how the single market has
evolved. The stage is set for a big debate on a common vision
of Europes social future. And the focus, I think, should
be on access and opportunity, as Europes leaders
We have to break away from debates on how to enforce equality.
I dont believe it is either just or possible for society
to impose equal outcomes on its citizens. What I do believe in
and believe strongly is the importance of equal
opportunity. Every European citizen should have the possibility
to fulfil his or her potential to the full. Deny that
possibility, and society as a whole is diminished.
But vague support for equality of opportunity is meaningless
unless it is accompanied by policies to ensure that it becomes
a reality for all citizens. Therefore, as we launch the debate
about access and opportunity in Europe, I think it is important
to focus on some key issues:
why one fifth of school children dont reach the
basic standards of literacy and numeracy;
why one in six young people are still leaving school
without any qualifications, when we know that fewer and fewer
unskilled jobs will be available;
why there is still a strong correlation between students
achieving a place at university and the educational background
of their parents in the knowledge economy, we have to
ensure higher educational standards for a broad majority;
why some member states are so much better than others at
integrating second generation migrants, enabling them to
achieve more in the education system;
why access to childcare is so patchy when the evidence
is so strong that better childcare leads to higher fertility,
more job opportunities for women and greater gender equality;
why child poverty continues to blight the prospects of a
fair start in life for a fifth of Europes children;
why work is a strain and stress for too many, and decent
family life and traditional support structures are put under
too much pressure;
why so many older people drop out of the labour force
too early when in an ageing society we can ill-afford to throw
their talents and contributions on the scrap heap.
Let the social debate begin.