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16th Jul 2019

Nordic social model could inspire other EU countries

London is set to keep pressing for the EU’s economic reform at an October summit of the bloc’s leaders.

The UK presidency has added a twist to the regular EU autumn summit, by making the summit informal and focusing primarily on economic reform and social policy.

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While originally planning to restrict the agenda to the "European social model", the UK presidency has announced the debate should also focus on the recent trade-related disputes with China and their implications for the union’s social and economic policies.

"The purpose is to take forward the debate on the key challenges facing Europe, the provision of social justice and competitiveness in the context of globalisation", a spokeswoman at the UK prime minister’s office told journalists on Wednesday (14 September).

The gathering of EU leaders, which will take place in London on 27–28 October, is supposed to discuss a report on the EU’s social model, conducted by the European commission.

The paper is still being prepared by its experts, but it will only give a broad overview of the bloc’s challenges on social policy grounds, rather than any concrete recommendations or solutions, according to the commission’s spokeswoman.

A contest of models

The vague character of the debate is influenced by the lack of a clear definition of the term the "EU social model" itself.

Experts argue that there are several models rather than a single volume of labour market and social policies, and they often play down the forthcoming debate and its potential outcomes.

The three main types they point to – Anglo-Saxon (UK and some new EU member states), continental (Germany, France) and Nordic (the Scandinavian states) – it is the latter that has received the greatest recognition by both analysts and the union’s officials.

Social policy commissioner Vladimir Spidla, himself a well-known fan of the Scandinavian social model, said of the European social model: "Although there are a number of national variants, the principle remains that all inhabitants are covered and nobody is abandoned".

Mr Spidla suggested that it would be a mistake "to assume that abandoning this model could in itself give us a new vitality or comparative advantage on world markets. The principles of Europe's social model are part and parcel of our competitiveness. If we tried to unravel it, we would weaken ourselves".

Speaking at a conference on Wednesday (14 September), he said a special EU summit focused on the issue would prove helpful, as "it should make the Union and its member states advance (on the subject), and it will clarify for the future what principles unite us, which failures we have to eliminate, and actions we must choose".

According to a report presented at the event by the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think-tank, "the Nordic model could become a source of inspiration for other countries in Europe", as Scandinavian societies have managed to integrate into a globalised economy not by cutting welfare, but rather through collective commitment, investing in high standards and a "willingness to pay for it".

A special feature highlighted by the paper at the conference is so-called "flexicurity", a mix of flexible labour market laws and social security provisions, with Denmark referred to as the model country to prove the advantages of such an approach.

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