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Will More Integration Save Europe’s Social Model?

The claim that Europe needs more integration to save its social model has long lost its credibility. Integration is irrelevant to that question, and, in those areas where deeper integration really would benefit Europe, it appears to be the last thing that national leaders want.

BRUSSELS – At high-level gatherings of the European Union elite, one often hears the following type of statement: “Europe must integrate and centralize economic governance in order to defend its social model in an age of globalization.” European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and his counterpart at the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, are particularly keen on this argument.

But the claim that only deeper EU integration can save the “European” social model from the onslaught of emerging markets is not true. Yes, globalization represents a challenge to all EU member states; but it is not clear how more integration would help them to confront it. More European economic governance is not a panacea.

In fact, it is not even clear which European social model needs to be saved. There are enormous differences among EU members in terms of the size of their public sectors, the flexibility of their labor markets, and almost any socio-economic indicator that one can think of. The common elements that are usually identified with the “European” social model are a quest for equality and a strong welfare state.

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