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Home arrow Marketing arrow Welfare Markets in Europe: The Democratic Challenge of European Integration


This chapter has investigated the dynamics of policy making and resistance by focusing on negative integration in Europe, that is, marketiza- tion through liberalization. This mainly involved the opening of national markets to foreign competitors and the end of monopolies for historical providers. Since the revival of the Single Market in the late 1980s, the marketization of welfare services has been something of a quiet revolution. Industrial action led by workers’ unions has been the most traditional form of contestation vis-a-vis EU liberalization policies. It was most of the time circumscribed to specific sectors, and occurred when decisions had already been made. Whether at the national level, or coordinated at the European scale, like in railway transport, it has had a very limited impact on policy making. After 2000, however, unions started to form broader contentious coalitions with NGOs and associations— often part of the alterglobalist movement. This occurred at the EU level in the framework of the ESF or, more recently, at the local level, where marketization and privatization—for instance, of hospitals or water distribution—have been hotly contested, and often prevented or reversed.

At the EU level, the conflict over the Services Directive between 2004 and 2006 stands out as the most contentious episode in the history of EU politics. The case study of contestation shows that the complex issue of services liberalization has been successfully politicized by a loose left-wing coalition involving political parties belonging to both the radical left and social democracy, the alterglobalist association ATTAC and the trade unions in several Member States as well as at the EU level. The formation of this coalition created polarization against the EU Commission, especially on the part of Frits Bolkestein who became the embodiment of a neoliberal Europe. In the heated context where the European Constitutional Treaty was rejected by referenda in the Netherlands and France, this coalition could progressively extend to the mainstream of the political spectrum and, eventually, reach a majority position. This process of coalition building went hand in hand with the use of all available channels for mobilization in the EU multi-level polity, namely transnational networks of the alterglobalist movement, supranational organizations such as the ETUC and groups in the EP, and the domestic route via national parties, parliaments and governments, notably in France and Germany. The EP proved to be a key player for the anti-Bolkestein coalition; not only a target for contentious groups but also an ally. The discourse framed by the coalition was very effective from a political point of view. Opponents to the Services Directive succeeded in going beyond the technical coor- dinative discourse dealing with the intricacies of services liberalization to forge a communicative discourse which widely resonated within several national public spheres in Europe. This discourse heavily relied on well- known frames and normative arguments invoking the necessity to defend a social Europe against a neoliberal Europe, to safeguard public services and the capacity of states to regulate services markets.

For the first time in the history of the EU, the political system of the EU was fairly responsive to contestation. Main decision makers endorsed the discourse on social Europe and, after two years of mobilization, the Commission proposal for services liberalization was substantially amended by the EP and the reach of liberalization, especially as far as welfare services were concerned, was contained. In the long run, though, responsiveness has proved more limited. Reviewing more recent initiatives and reactions to them, the last part of the chapter shows a mitigated picture where the long-established trends in policy making continue against the backdrop of relatively low politicization. On the one hand, the EU Commission and a majority of Member States’ governments in the Council have pursued the marketization agenda in all areas of SGI as well as through the regulation of public procurement. It is striking that sectoral directives which contain clauses for their periodical revision provide a sustained, almost mechanical dynamic of marketization and enjoy a fairly solid consensus for ever tighter market integration. While this is obvious in sectors where liberalization has been ongoing for about two decades, it is also striking that marketization is now reaching new frontiers—such as healthcare—which affect even more sensitive areas of citizens lives. Behind the narrative of patients’ rights to mobility, EU legislation has started to open national boundaries of healthcare systems based on solidarity. Although national governments still enjoy a strong regulatory capacity in this regard, this has a strong potential for promoting market logics and actors within an internal market for healthcare.

The study of liberalization and resistance to it in today’s EU calls for a nuanced assessment of the interactions between positive and negative integration. Fritz Scharpf’s work essentially focused on the ways in which the Commission and the Court were able to use the institutional and legal features of the EU to impose a market-making agenda enforced through negative integration. This chapter has shown that the generalization of co-decision had, to a certain extent, reshaped EU politics as parliamentary politics have opened possibilities for politicization and conflict-based deliberation. The EP is almost systematically the channel through which pro-regulation ideas and propositions are voiced. It is also a target and an ally for civil society groups which have the possibility to mobilize transnationally. Over the years, though, the majority of the EP has continuously shifted to the right, thus expanding support for market-making policies. However, the majority-opposition dynamics within the EP still work on an ad hoc basis in a way that is permeable to contestation within civil society and politicization in national public spheres. While jurisprudence is usually rather versatile, the EU Commission always offers a particular interpretation of it when it proposes legislation. This is influenced by the political climate of EU politics, on the one hand, and by the ideological inclinations and agendas of individual Commissioners, on the other. In sum, institutional and legal constraints can no longer be regarded as the sole, structural drivers of EU policy making. Ideological battles and discursive dynamics that make the multi-level politics of the EU play an important role in shaping the particular positive-negative integration policy mix over different issues. While the marketization agenda has consistently been accompanied by varying levels of contention and resistance, it has still never ceased to be the dominant policy agenda ever since its inception.

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