Polity (November 2006)
Europe's social model - its system of welfare and social protection - is regarded by many as the jewel in the crown. It is what helps to give the European societies their distinctive qualities of social cohesion and care for the vulnerable. Over recent years, however, the social model has come under great strain in many states within the European Union - unemployment, for example, remains stubbornly high. The resulting tensions have fuelled dissatisfaction with the European project as a whole, culminating in the rejection of Europe's proposed new constitution.
Reform of the social model is therefore a matter of urgency. It has to go hand in hand with the quest to regenerate growth. The weaker performers in Europe over the past few years can learn a good deal from states that have coped more effectively. But more radical changes need to be contemplated in the face of the impact of globalisation, rapidly increasing cultural diversity and changing demography. The author argues that the traditional welfare state needs to be rethought. We have to bring life-style change into the heart of what 'welfare' means. Moreover, environmental issues must be directly connected to other citizenship obligations. These innovations have to be made at the same time as Europe's competitive position is upgraded.
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