30 January 2018

Formulating EU employment policy in times of New Economic Governance

Employment policy became a cornerstone in Social Europe with the launch of the European Employment Strategy (EES) in 1997 and was seen an key instrument in addressing the unemployment problem which in most EU countries remained high. Nevertheless, researchers found that the EES from the turn of the century was gradually weakened and subordinated to economic policies. However, recently a few in-depth studies found  a progressive ‘socialization’ taking place, including increased emphasis on social objectives and targets.

The research report takes its starting point from these contradictory observations and focuses on four cases: The Youth Guarantee (2012-13), the revision of the employment guidelines (2014-15), the long-term unemployment recommendation (2015-16) and the European Pillar of Social Rights (2016 -17).

Firstly, the research report confirms that EU’s employment policy was weakened and, to an even larger extent than previously, became subordinated to EU’s economic policies in the years following the crisis. The subordination took place because the employment policy was integrated in the European Semester which at that time focused strongly on fiscal policy and budgetary balances. However, from around 2012-13 there seems to be at least a partial comeback of the employment policies on the EU scene.

Secondly, with regard to the roles and positions of the various actors, it is argued that no mobilization of coalitions in connection with  any of the four cases has taken place, although all four cases include several examples of critical member-states and other critical actors. This might be because three of the four cases have not been controversial enough to trigger coalition-building and because clear-cut coalitions are not so common anymore due to the plurality of interests that is a side-effect of the EU expansion. Regarding the European social partners these are found to have been more reactive than proactive in the formulation of the four cases. The Commission clearly stands out as the main driver and initiator in at least three of the four initiatives.

Thirdly, it is argued that a combination of ‘problem load factors’ and ‘political actor factors’ can explain the development. The partial crowding out of employment policies in the period after the crisis could be understood as an effect of the political attention given to fiscal stability and austerity under the liberal oriented Barroso Commission. Gradually, the political attention shifted towards social and employment issues. This development took place at the same time as the economic and fiscal crisis weakened, but its social and employment consequences became more obvious. The development was speeded up when a more Social Europe-oriented President of the Commission took over.

Read the full report "Formulating EU employment policy in times of New Economic Governance" by Mikkel Mailand.