4. oktober 2012

After Flexicurity - Mobility and Education as the New Axis in European Employment Policies?

Paper by Søren Kaj Andersen (FAOS), Nikolaj Lubanski (Metropolitan University College) and Ove K. Pedersen (Copenhagen Business School)

The concept ‘flexicurity’ has been accused of being vague and as well as seductive in claiming that we can have flexibility and security simultaneously.

On the other hand the emergence of the concept can be seen as a logical consequence of pressures for labour market reform within a European regulatory tradition where ambitions to deregulate or flexibilise the labour markets have been met with opposition from trade unions and the political center-left, claiming that employees need to be sheltered from social risks fostered by a more volatile labour market.

In this environment flexicurity came in as a useful compromise.

We argue that flexicurity must be seen as part of an emerging reform agenda within the specific European tradition of labour market regulation. This includes that flexicurity must be seen as part of a still evolving reform agenda. We argue that over the last two decades different phases in the reform agenda can be identified:

  • First phase; characterized by the focus on the need to flexibilise the labour markets.
  • Second phase; where the flexibility strive is paired with ‘security’ and evolves into the flexicurity agenda.
  • Third phase; where we will argue that an emerging twin focus on the mobility of employees and education and training can be identified.

We frame the third phase ‘mobication’ (mobility + education). The most important shift we identify in moving to this third phase is the policy ambition to address skills and qualification in the labour force as such, i.e. both employed and unemployed.

We identify this policy shift in various publications published by European Commission and different EU-institutions. Since 2007 these reports focus increasingly on education and training, lifelong learning, future skill needs in Europe etc. due to technological and demographic changes and forecasted trends in the global division of work illustrating the central theme of the third phase.

Analytically we will argue that the third phase (mobication) in the labour market reforms emphasizes that policy makers at European level recognize very clearly that policy areas are interlinked. Creating jobs cannot be done via employment policies solely; many other policy areas can either support or undermine the endeavour for job creation. This includes social, education, fiscal, economic policies etc.

From the analytical point of view we frame this as institutional complementarities, meaning how various policy areas are interlinked and fit one another. The concept of institutional complementary stems from research in varieties of capitalism and aims at discussing to what extent different (national) institutional arrangements leads to comparative advantages.

The centre of interest at EU-level and in the member states is to increase Europe's comparative competitiveness and this is increasingly implemented through institutional reforms aimed at coordinating policy areas.

With the third (mobication) phase this tendency is taken further. Whereas we see the flexicurity phase as characterized by – or maybe dominated by – relatively simple institutional complementarities, first and foremost based on the Danish and Dutch flexicurity models, we argue that (mobication) is characterised by more complex patterns of institutional complementarities due to the larger empirical scope of the concept.

Paper presented at the ILERA World Congress 2012, Philadelphia, USA, 2-5 July 2012, at the session 'After flexicurity – European scenarios for balanced employment policies' organized by Søren Kaj Andersen. The paper was written as part of the SONIC project.