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The global age: Europe, India, China: major debate on the challenges of social justice

  • Date(s)
    9 October 2006
  • Time
    6.30 p.m.
  • Location
    Peacock Theatre, London School of Economics

On Monday the 9th of October, Policy Network held a high profile debate at the London School of Economics to mark the launch of two major new publications. “Europe in the Global Age”, by Anthony Giddens, and “Global Europe, Social Europe”, edited by Anthony Giddens, Patrick Diamond and Roger Liddle, are the product of an ongoing research project that Policy Network commissioned into the current status and future of Europe’s Social Model.

To debate the issues raised by these books about Europe’s position in the light of shifting global power and economic distribution, the authors were joined by Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner and Honorary Chair of Policy Network; Katinka Barysch, Chief Economist at the Centre for European Reform; and Will Hutton, Chief Executive of the Work Foundation.

First of all acknowledging the state of Britain’s public opinion of the EU, which is often at best consciously uninterested and at worst staunchly sceptical, the panellists championed the need for a fresh wind of European optimism. By recognising the value of an integrated Europe, both the UK and other member states stand to learn from each other and rise to the challenges of the modern world.

However, over recent years, there has been evidence in Europe of widespread unemployment and stagnated growth, particularly in the larger economies of France, Germany and Italy. Under such circumstances, which are often perceived to be the detrimental consequences of increased globalisation, the continued viability of Europe’s welfare states has been questioned.

As demonstrated above all by the French and Dutch rejections of the constitution, many fear that reforms to improve Europe’s ability to compete in the 21st century will mean sacrificing their cherished welfare systems. On the contrary, the debate revealed how modernisation need not mean a loss of these traditions, rather their improvement to better equip our citizens and societies for the current global climate. If Europe is to move forward, reform must no longer be seen as an attempt to impose neo-liberalism and ignore growing social inequalities.

Instead, EU cooperation should mean that members are encouraged to learn from those that have demonstrated positive results both economically and socially. Anthony Giddens summarised the policies common to the best performers, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, as the following:

1.      Higher rather than lower levels of taxation;
2.      Greater openness to international trade;
3.      Flexible labour markets;
4.      High investment in R&D and ICT;
5.      Increased spending on education and training;
6.      Strong emphasis on social justice.

Speakers also addressed the fear of globalisation, that is proving an obstacle to reform, by putting forward facts that challenge common assumptions about the perceived threats. Whereas many in the UK, for example, are quick to blame unemployment on the outsourcing of labour to cheaper markets in the East, only 19,000 of the 39,000 jobs lost in the UK over the last ten years were offshored.

It was argued that these statistics, which reflect similar trends in other EU countries, show the relatively greater impact of internal factors, such as ageing populations and inexperience in new employment sectors. Removing these obstacles and properly equipping citizens for employment in new industries, through educational and training opportunities, is therefore imperative.

Furthermore, Europe is well positioned to face the potential challenges posed by the rising economies of India and China due to the experience of the EU enlargement. The fact that China and India have entered the global economic stage alongside the enlargement process has meant that the EU itself has been a microcosm of global trends. The benefits, as opposed to the oft-quoted burdens, of integrating two very different economic zones such as Western and Eastern Europe must not be forgotten. Competitiveness in research and development has been spurred on in more developed areas of the EU, whilst the opportunity to transfer some production facilities to lower-cost EU areas and the increased development of these areas has strengthened Europe’s markets globally.

In short, it was argued that must we begin to perceive Europe as an integrated whole and acknowledge our interdependence in order to benefit our social welfare systems, and also to better understand and exploit Europe’s unique potential in a global future. By combining market liberalization and a social justice agenda, the goal of reformers should be the transformation of the ESM into a developmental, empowering state, clearly distinguished from the neo-liberal alternative, ultimately proving that Global Europe can be a Social Europe.

“Global Europe, Social Europe”, and “Europe in the Global Age” present the theoretical and empirical research behind these conclusions, and the authors lay out a rational program of reform that will maximise Europe’s potential as both an economic world power and a social beacon.

The books are now available to purchase from Polity Press at www.polity.co.uk

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