The European Social Model (ESM) and cultural diversity in Europe


Une fois n´est pas coutume, voici un papier en anglais, que nous publions du fait de son intérët. Il s´agit d´une présentation faite pour l´Institut de recherche danois Carma, de l´Université d´Aalborg, où Jean-Claude Barbier est professeur associé. Il est aussi directeur de recherche au CNRS, Centre d’économie de la Sorbonne (CES – Matisse), Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne CNRS.

In the past forty years a voluminous body of literature has been published to analyse the phenomena of European integration, Europeanization, convergence and diversity of all kinds of institutions and social practices across states that are members of the European Union. A long journey was made from the first studies, like for instance Ernst Haas’s who, in 1968, revisited his 1958 theory of ‘spill-over’, after General de Gaulle, to him, had changed the conditions of European integration, because he was « a true nineteenth nationalist » (1968: xviii). Spill-over, Haas thought in 1958, in the first edition of his book, was inevitable: it was, he wrote, « unlikely that the General Common Market can avoid a species of political federalism in or-der to function as an economic organ » (1968: 317). Why « political federalism » has still to really emerge in the present conditions remains to be explained and we will deal with only one small angle to this question, namely, the special case of the ‘social dimension’ of Euro-pean integration. We will contend here that, despite the immense change brought to Europe by the 50 years of initiatives started by the 1957 Treaty of Rome, despite the crucial aspect of ‘negative integration’ (Scharpf 2000) and the increasing homogenisation of elites through their cross-national socialisation, ‘political cultures’ still matter to such an important degree that they preclude, and probably will preclude for a long time, the very possibility of actually implementing the basic process and practices that ‘solidarity’ demands, under the now classi-cal institutionalised forms of ‘social protection’ (Barbier and Théret 2004).

Because the amount of scholarship about these themes is immense, it is perhaps not useless to stress some of our preferences in terms of paradigms and theories. As a sociologist fully aware of the fact that many disciplines can contribute to the study of this object, we tend to think that it is indispensable to relate present empirical work to classical foundations. In this respect, our main inspiration comes from Max Weber for a number of reasons. Firstly because he gives us an immensely enriching body of comparative facts, methods and theories in his comparison of the world religions. Secondly because he places at the heart of his work the notion of meaningful activity (sinnhaftes Handeln). And thirdly because he takes a clear standpoint on the question of the relationship between ideas (or, in other terms, culture) and interests. For this reason, I would like to recall, at the beginning of this lecture, his famous quote about human action : « Interessen, materielle und ideelle, nicht; Ideen, beherrschen unmittelbar das Handeln der Menschen aber; die ‚Weltbilder‘ welche durch Ideen geschaffen wurden, haben sehr oft als Weichensteller die Bahnen bestimmt, in denen die Dynamik der Interessen das Handeln fortbewegte » (Weber 1996: 349-350)1. Quoting Weber, I wish to stress here the crucial importance of the cognitive aspect of the developments that are taking place in the process of EU integration. We may take here for granted the fact that, increas-ingly, EU policies share a characteristic stressed by many researchers (Jobert 2003; Muller and Surel 1998: 100; Muller 2000: 204-205): they contribute to the de-coupling2 of the sphere of policies from the sphere of politics. More and more, at the EU level, cognitive and norma-tive frameworks are established, which have an important cognitive influence on the way national programmes and policies are designed. And here Max Weber’s statement is essential inasmuch as it points to the fact that the various interests engaged in the making of EU poli-tics and policies mainly fight with one another through « ideas ». We will show that, at a cer-tain level of generality, these frameworks and ideas are indeed ‘Europeanized’, while at the same time, differences and closure amongst polities are maintained.

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