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5.5.1. Britain as the Internal “Other” in the EU Generally, the UK represents a special case when it comes to the EMoS/ ESM because, like America, its social model is neo-liberal. As the discussion so far has shown, the Commission articulations indicate that its idea of how social life should be organised strongly opposes the neo-liberal model. Instead, its vision advocates greater involvement in social issues for the state and the supranational level in the EU context. In the past this has led to British opting-out of EU-level legislation on social policy, which represents a tangible manifestation of the existence of an internal border between the UK and the rest of the EU on this particular issue. Although it joined the Social Chapter in the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, the trend of Britain disagreeing with the rest of the EU on social policy issues is still present. For example, in the beginning of the new millennium, the Directive on Information and Consultation of workers raised: “considerable concern and worry … in the UK”144 and in the summer of 2005, the UK expressed its opposition to the proposed legislation at EU level for the number of hours a week that a worker is allowed to do. This constitutes the discursive background within which the articulations of the Commission operate.
In concurrence with the de-bordering trend under the first reading some articulations of the Commission indicate its desire to overcome the internal border between the UK and the other member states on social policy issues. This is enunciated through a two-step process. Firstly, the Commission has referred to the British position as a serious issue because it obstructs the integration process. 145 This is because “there are two different legal bases for the pursuit of social policy at European level … one [that] applies across the Union and is based on the social provisions of the Treaty of Rome … and the other applies to 14 Member States and is based on the Agreement on Social Policy.” 146 Secondly, the Commission has clearly shown that it is in favour of discontinuation of this situation: “My plea – here today – for an end to a separate social chapter simply reflects what has in recent years informed the whole European Social policy”; “I hope the UK will come to recognize that having two legal frameworks for social legislation is what threatens jobs, puts workers‟ confidence and security at risk and weakens competitiveness.” 147 This clearly indicates that the Commission supports taking the internal EU borders down, which importantly should be done through accepting the developments at EU level.
The promotion of the establishment of a common social space in the EU and the inclusion of the UK in it are further advanced by some Commission articulations, which emphasise that the UK belongs to the ESM. Most often this is done by acknowledging the diversity of the social systems of the member states, a technique, which I looked at in the section on de-bordering. As I argued there, the inclusiveness is implied by the insistence on the existence of common underlying values and aims, which supersede these differences in the detail. The following statement is a good illustration of this in the case of the UK: “The 145 Jacques Delors, Press Conference before the Maastricht European Council, SPEECH/91/135, 05.12.1991, p. 2 146 European Commission, Facts about the „Social Chapter‟, MEMO/97/13, 05.02.1997, p. 2 147 Both quotations are from Padraig Flynn, The Social Chapter – Cost or Benefit?, SPEECH/96/223, 26.09.1996, p. 5 216 way in which these values are implemented in the Member States of the European Union, with their different traditions, varies … For example, the United Kingdom has the National Health Service, whereas Germany has a system of insurance funds …but the basic common direction of all systems is clear.”148 However, there are other articulations that can be interpreted along the line that the UK represents a special case in the EU, thus contradicting the claim that a common social space exists in the EU.
The first way in which the inconsistency is articulated is through linking the UK and the US. Thus, despite the above claims about Britain‟s belonging to the ESM, from the discourse of the Commission it also emerges as a state that has macroeconomic indicators similar to the US: “… when we look at both income inequality and literacy inequality, we find that the Nordics – Denmark, Sweden, Norway – are at one end of the spectrum, in both cases. And that the US, and unfortunately the UK too, are at the other end.” 149; “… US workers work 5 to 10 per cent longer hours per year than European. Even longer than the British!”150 Thus, these documents link the UK with the US through establishing a clear resemblance between them. As the previous section showed the US is constructed as one of the main “Others” of the EU. Therefore, the link of the UK with it contributes to the exclusion of the UK from the EU, rather than to its inclusion, hence constructing an internal border in the Union.
This perception of ambiguous belonging of the UK to the ESM is further reinforced by the frequent reminder in Commission documents that the UK is a part of the integration project and faces the same challenges as the other member states: “Over the next decade, Europe, including Britain, faces a fundamental choice of directions about its response to intensifying global competition.” 151; “That is the core of the European employment and social policy, for the UK and Europe, in the next decade.”152 These have: “… been a test of 148 Vladimir Špidla, The European Social Model: Wishful Thinking or Reality?, SPEECH/06/291, 11.05.2006, p. 2 149 Anna Diamantopoulou, The Modernisation of the European Social Model and the Forthcoming Stockholm Summit, SPEECH/01/113, 09.03.2001, p. 4 150 Ibid., p. 3 151 Peter Mandelson, A Modern Social Agenda for Europe, SPEECH/05/381, 23.06.2005, p. 2 (emphasis added) 152 Padraig Flynn, A Personal Perspective on the Development of Social Europe, SPEECH/99/112, 07.09.1999, p. 4 (emphasis added) 217 the UK‟s ability to address both its own identity in Europe, and its own … performance, in European terms.”153 These statements promote a European identity for the UK. However, the fact that these reminders are constantly necessary154 implies that in Britain, the identification with the EU is not that strong, that the British often feel apart, rather than a part of the EU. Thus, although they are members of the EU, this indicates that there is an important dividing line between them and the rest of the Union on social policy issues, which points towards the existence of an internal EU border. This can be illustrated by the fact, admitted openly by Commissioner Flynn that in the UK there is: “… sometimes bitter, and essentially sham, battle which surrounds any mention of “Europe”, and, especially, the “S” word”155 and that the British tabloid press (perhaps more that the national press in any other member state) is notorious for its: “… spread of fear and loathing of the Union”. 156 The latter leads to the question what, if anything makes the UK different? As I said earlier, in distinction to the socio-economic models on the continental part of the EU, the British one is neo-liberal. Therefore, it can be expected that in comparison to other European social models, the predisposition on social issues in the UK has been towards less intervention, deregulation, or lower social spending. Currently this predisposition is a result of the policies of the Conservative governments that ruled the country for almost two decades after 1979. This incline has meant that (especially when the Conservative party was in power) the UK was finding it difficult to come to terms with the philosophy underpinning EMoS/ ESM. This distinction is reflected in the Commission discourse, which can be well exemplified by the following quotation of Commissioner Flynn: “Lady Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the UK, used to say that she didn‟t know what society was. I know.”157 It clearly points to the contradictory positions of the two politicians, thus putting them on the opposing sides of the dividing line. These positions are 153 Ibid., p. 2 154 Although on certain issues, or during particular periods other EU member states can also be regarded as an internal “Other” emerging from European Commission discourse, the UK is the EU member state to which this is most often applicable. Furthermore, as the years of the documents referred to in this section indicate, this tendency has been pronounced virtually throughout the whole period in question. Thus, I regard the UK as a “special case” and one of the most important examples of the construction of internal EU borders.
155 Padraig Flynn, Social Policy and the Economy, SPEECH/97/35, 11.02.1997, p. 2 156 Ibid., p. 5 157 Padraig Flynn, European Social Policy - a Help or a Hindrance, SPEECH/96/127, 20.05.1996, p. 1 (emphasis added) 218 informed by the different philosophies they hold. For the EU Commissioner: “People and their skills, enterprise and confidence, as consumers, investors and workers, are both the future of our economies, and of its bedrock, families and society. The economy has to be strong. The values of the market are necessary for enterprise and business. But for citizens, for people, it‟s more complex. Human values are more than – and different from – market values.”158 As we have seen earlier, various Commission documents promote the idea that a very important part of these citizens‟ values are the social models in the EU, which stand in favour of solidarity and equality. These, however, require active redistributive policies. It is exactly this kind of policies that Margaret Thatcher was opposing and in turn, this has led her to proclaim that she did not know what society is.
This differentiation between citizens values and market values is again reminiscent to a line in the Commission discourse on US‟ “Other”. Taking this into account, however, allows drawing more parallels between the socio-economic systems of the US and the UK.
This further contradicts the claim of the UK‟s belonging to the ESM and constructs it instead as “Other”, just as the US is, and in this way – establishes an internal border in the EU. Further evidence in support of such argument is that according to the documents of the European Commission, some important positive and negative aspects of British economic performance are closer to these of the US. For example, in terms of its achievements under the European Employment Strategy: “The UK in many ways is a very positive role model, although there is an issue of balance with respect to employment and social policies. In our work on labour markets within the Employment strategy … we see that the UK performs well in terms of a number of traditional flexibility criteria. And it has shown an impressive capacity to respond to change, especially regarding new technologies. Nevertheless, there remains work to be done … there is lack of social partnership, at a time when we envisage an enhanced role for the social partners at both European and national level …” 159 The second main inconsistency in the Commission discourse on social policy that contributes to the emergence of an internal border between the UK and the rest of the member states is the articulation of those in favour of deregulation as “Other”. According
158 Ibid.159 Anna Diamantopoulou, The European Dimension, SPEECH/00/298, 12.09.2000, pp. 4-5
219 to the Commission, there are clear dangers in deregulation: “… we must avoid … drifting back to the policies and practices that failed to deliver in the past – like wholesale market de-regulation. Not only did they not work, they proved counter-productive. Creating social strife and conflict. Slowing the process of reform and progress. Failing to address the real labour market problems we face.”160; “… deregulators … offer us the low pay, low productivity route.”161 Instead, the Commission promotes the rationale for the existence of social policy at Union level and is at pains to emphasise and reassure that its aim is not to regulate at any price and that it only does so when there is a necessity for that: “Our [EU]
economic objectives cannot be achieved without the social dimension.” and this is because: