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European tools for social policy in Belgium (

Research project TA/00/14 (Research action TA)

Persons :

Description :

The European Union – together with the political and social actors which influence, guide and implement its actions – currently has 4 major instruments at its disposal to produce an action in the social field directed towards the Member States: classic European law (directives and regulations), collective agreements at European level resulting from the social dialogue, the open methods of coordination (OMC), and the financial instruments (in particular the European Social Fund (ESF). These instruments are very different in nature, because of their distinct historical origins – some date from the beginning of the EU (classic European law and the ESF), others from the 1990s (collective agreements and OMC) – and because of their difference in legal scope – some are binding (classic law and collective agreements), others are inciting (OMC and ESF), some are distributive (ESF) others regulatory (the other three). They also differ in terms of the actor networks connected to them, both formally and factually (for instance, the role played by the social partners, in their national or European configurations, differs greatly from one instrument to another).

Dealing with the question of the Europeanisation of Belgian social policy, this research project will approach the classic question as to how the domestic political system and the European political system interact by taking into account a variable which is only rarely - if ever - examined in the existing literature on ‘Social Europe’, namely the question to what extent different policy instruments of EU public intervention in social matters – instruments which differ from one another and also, in part, from the equivalent ones used at national level in Belgium – produce a different impact on the nature of this interaction.

The network proposes to address the question of the Europeanisation of current Belgian social policy by analysing the - hypothetically specific - uses made of each of these 4 instruments of EU public social policy intervention in relation to 4 major thematic fields forming part of the current social actions at EU level: employment, social inclusion, information and consultation of workers, and equality between men and women.

The central goal is hence to investigate whether there are significant differences in the modes and contents of the public action ‘produced’ at the EU level and ‘received’ at the national level, in relation to each of the 4 thematic fields, depending on the policy instruments through which the EU action takes place: classic European law, European collective agreements, the OMC or the ESF. In pursuing this objective, the network will not of course fail to examine the partial linkages between the different instruments, their various uses in the distinct thematic fields, and the coherence of the whole policy architecture.

Our treatment of the question of the Europeanisation of Belgian social policy will seek to underline not only the impact of European actions on domestic social policy, but will also stress the co-evolution between political initiatives in the social field taken at the national and European levels. This is important because directing all attention to phenomena of Europeanisation could over-emphasise the influence of the European policy level to the detriment of national “endogenous” evolutions or “exogenous” pressures deriving from other international institutions (OECD, IMF, ILO, European Council, etc.). Different exogenous pressures can have a different weight, since they are filtered by the domestic dynamics of policy and political change. We thus intend to investigate not only how the European arena (and other international forums) influence the evolution of domestic policy-making, but also how this influence feeds back to the European level (and the other forums).

At the same time we will be careful not to produce an excessively sectoral analysis, which would cut off the European social policy, and its impact on national social policy, from other policies at EU level, especially in the economic field (macro-economic convergence, EMU, internal market, broad economic policy guidelines, etc.). In order to prevent such fragmentation, the network will endeavour to integrate the selection and treatment of case studies with the question of how social and economic policies are related, both at the European and the national level.

With a view to our general research question, we will thus select a limited number of case studies (approximately 2 to 4 cases for each instrument). The selection of cases will be based on their potential to inform us about the decision-making process by which a European action in the social field is produced, through each of the 4 policy instruments referred to above, hypothetically in a specific manner for each one of the 4 chosen thematic fields.

Documentation :

L'Europe en Belgique, la Belgique dans l'Europe : configuration et appropriation des politiques sociales = Europa in België, België in Europa : sociaal beleid als tweerichtingsverkeer  Vanhercke, Bart - Verschraegen, Gert - Van Gehuchten, Pierre-Paul ... et al  Gent : Academia Press, 2011 (PB6271)
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