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'Flexicurity': a new departure for European social policy?

  • Date(s)
    25 May 2007
  • Time
    8:00 a.m.
  • Location
    The Work Foundation

There has been much commentary in the recent past about the relationship between forms of employment regulation and Europe's employment performance. Some have argued that the only option for countries in the EU with high unemployment is to liberalise their markets and recognise the irresistible superiority of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. However, there is a different perspective on the European story, which draws on the OECD's recent analysis and shows that there is more than one labour market model associated with strong employment growth and a high employment rate.

One such model, often labeled 'flexicurity', refers to a welfare state model that brings together flexibility with security in the labour market and beyond. It has been identified by the European Commission and most EU member states as an essential framework for achieving high levels of growth and economic dynamism, while at the same time allowing for a sufficient level of social protection. The Nordic countries such as Denmark and Finland have been leading beneficiaries of the flexicurity approach, exhibiting low rates of unemployment, high levels of employability, macroeconomic stability, a high degree of social cohesion and excellent individual opportunities for job satisfaction.

It remains the case, however, that relatively few member states have actually implemented a coherent and consistent strategy to promote flexicurity. This is mainly because creating the right package of policies, combining elements of active labour market measures, education and training, social partnership and dialogue, labour and contract legislation as well as social security provision, is a complex exercise.

In addition, the sweeping transformation of Europe’s economies in an era of increased global trade and competition requires policy-makers to constantly re-assess and deal with the emerging social challenges that have accompanied economic changes. Hence, implementing a successful model of flexicurity is by no means a one-off exercise, but demands permanent adjustment and rethinking. The relationship between competitiveness and social justice is complex. For instance, workers who lose their jobs have the right to protection, but such protection has to take the form of effectively helping people with transitions from one job to another.

Against the background of the on-going debate across Europe on flexicurity, the European Commission announced its recent Communication on “Pathways towards more flexicurity: achieving better combinations of flexibility and security” to drive forward the adoption of common principles intended to strengthen Europe’s socio-economic performance. Indeed, developing the concept of flexicurity will be critical to the future of the European project itself, ensuring that globalisation can benefit the many.

The seminar on 25 May with Roger Liddle, Principal Advisor at the European Commission, who delivered the keynote address, explored these issues. Roger introduced a discussion on the Commission's Paper on flexicurity. This initiative set the direction for labour market policy at European level for the next five years. Responses were given by by Adam Lent, the TUC’s Head of Economic and Social Affairs, Hartmut Seifert, Head of Policy of the Gerrman trade union foundation Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, and Ian Brinkley, Director of the Knowledge Economy Project. The seminar was chaired by David Coats, Director of Policy at the Work Foundation.

Our objective is to initiate a major debate about the appropriate role for European social policy, the possibilities that EU countries can learn from each other's successes and the implications for national labour market policy in the UK.

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