Look East To Save Europe's Social Market

As expansion of the EU approaches, many Europeans see in it only things to be feared: masses of economic migrants, and poor countries demanding subsidies. But Europe's new eastern members can also act as a beacon for the Union, as Jacques Rupnik suggests.

It is often argued that Continental Europe's social and economic model, which seeks to combine competitiveness with solidarity, is the glue that binds the European Union together, as well as distinguishing Europe from the American (or Anglo-Saxon) free-market model. Clearly, Europe's answer to globalization is that certain spheres of social life-say, healthcare, education, the environment, or culture-cannot be left to the whip of the market.

On the surface it seems that Europe's steady integration proceeded in parallel with the development of the welfare state. But this is misleading: the European social model is, in fact, part and parcel of the identity of the EU member states more than of the EU per se.

Some, indeed, suggest that the EU often acts to erode the welfare state. This fear contributed to the reluctance of countries like Denmark and Sweden to embrace greater European integration. In both countries, majorities voted against adopting the euro because they feared that national welfare norms would become curtailed.