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The Rise and Fall of the ‘European Social Model’

Francine Mestrum, Global Social Justice

‘We want a social and democratic Europe’, ‘The ‘European social model’ has to be preserved’: it is not too difficult to fill some pages with demands for social policies and confirmations of European leaders that they will deliver. But how is this ‘social Europe’ faring? Where do we come from and where are we heading to? In this contribution I will give a short history of thinking on social policies since the inception of and in the European Community and the European Union. I will show how the social paradigm has changed and how, in 2012, it seems we are heading for a total breakdown of the old model.

The World Bank plays a major role in the global spreading of new ideas and discourses. While many people might think the UN, UNDP or the ILO have more interesting things to say on development, more often than not, it is the World Bank which succeeds in promoting anew ‘order of discourse’.

In 1990, it was the World Bank which put poverty on the international agenda. While the ‘human development’ concept of UNDP was launched in that same year, five years later UNDP also adopted the priority of reducing extreme poverty.

In 2000, the World Bank proposed a strategic framework for social protection, and while this ‘risk management’ strategy did not have immediate success, it now has been re-launched and probably will influence the new way of thinking on social protection.

The reasons for this success are quite simple. The World Bank has willing media for its economic (neoliberal) messages, and it has huge resources to implement its ideas in countries all over the world.

In June, the ILO adopted a Resolution on a Social Protection Floor, which it is now trying to implement. The European Commission published in 2011 its Development Report on Social Protection, and in 2012 a Communication for a social protection strategy in its development cooperation policies[1].

What exactly does the World Bank propose?[2]

Who could have imagined ten years ago the paradoxical situation we are living in today! In 2002 the first signs of the multiple crisis the EU is living in today were visible, especially at the social level. But institutionally, there was hope that the new constitutional treaty would bring solutions for old problems. At the economic level, everything was going fine with a new common currency and reasonable growth figures. Socially, the situation was more difficult with some neoliberal reforms, a Lisbon strategy aimed at ‘activating’ unemployed people and liberalizing public services.


In this contribution, I will be looking at the social situation in the Mekong region in order to reflect on the social demands that might be put forward in the future. I will therefore analyse the international discourse on social policies and see to what extent this offers an adequate framework for social movements to work in. In the last section, I will propose some basic principles which can usefully be integrated into social demands and on which social movements will have to decide. As a conclusion, I want to state the huge transformative potential of universal social protection.

Social Protection Floor: beyond poverty reduction?

Francine Mestrum, PhD

Global social justice (

In this article I want to analyze different proposals for a ‘social protection floor’. What exactly do they mean? Do they go beyond poverty reduction? Is it a step towards a universal social protection system? The ILO recommendation will be compared to the report written by the Advisory Group chaired by Michelle Bachelet, the European Development Report 2011 on social protection, and the Latin American ECLAC (UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean)proposal for an Inclusive Social Protection.

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