The European Welfare System

Topics: European Union, Europe, Germany Pages: 5 (1629 words) Published: June 23, 2013
The European Welfare System

In a previous lecture I explained the concept of ‘welfare system’ whereby different countries across the world organize and distribute welfare goods and services through an interlocking of five areas of provision: state and public sector agencies; market and businesses; family and kinship support; local community bodies; and civil society both in national and international forms. In short, a ‘welfare system’ is born of, and embedded in, particular interactions between these five providers that reflect the history and culture of a country or a group of countries. In today’s lecture I want to explore the European welfare system that will include those countries in the European Union (EU) in order to identify their common features as well as their differences. The most important common feature these countries have is a tradition of what is known as ‘corporatism’ that I touched upon previously but which now requires more unpacking.

Corporatism, or neo-corporatism, has a long history in social science generally and has been bedevilled by fierce debates about what the term means when applied to liberal democratic societies – such as those in the EU (Schmitter & Lehmbruch, 1979). In terms of welfare I am defining it here as a system in which conflicts of interest are overcome by negotiated consensual policy making between the state and organized groups such as ‘peak associations’ of employers and employees for example (Cochrane & Clarke, 1993). Similar associations ‘incorporate’ and then represent other social groups in a given field of welfare to the state in processes of dialogue and consultation. When agreements are reached, these group associations take responsibility for their subsequent implementation in practice. There is a strong religious/voluntary/community involvement in the provision of welfare services as I will examine later in relation to the concept of ‘subsidiarity’ derived from Roman Catholic social teaching.

In sum, the dominant European model of welfare – as exemplified in most EU countries – is corporatist, not individualist. For example, compared with the UK, there is virtually no tradition of personal pension arrangements in Europe. Welfare has traditionally been financed by compulsory social insurance schemes rather than tax-financed alternatives-although the latter exist in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Contribution levels to insurance schemes are calculated by the state and set according to one’s income, and benefit levels according to household income and length of employment. In Germany, the state is no less a guarantor of access to health care than in Britain. But health care is financed and provided for by independent bodies such as the public insurance (sickness) funds, which are in fact mandated in public law. These bodies are known as ‘social partners’ of the state in a corporatist system. The pattern in Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) is one of quasi-autonomous insurance funds managed by social partners, some private, in accordance with state prescription and regulation. In France, for example, there are three that together cover 95% of the population: the National Health Insurance Fund for Salaried Workers (CNAMTS), the Sickness Fund Administration for Self-Employed Workers (CANAM) and the National Farmers Health Insurance Fund (MSA) (Dourgnon, 2004). Cochrane & Clarke (1993) added to this account by highlighting the extent to which the corporatist model in Europe relied on care being provided through a combination of State and Family centred on the activities of women as wives, mothers, sisters and workers. Working mothers today are as common in Europe as in the UK so what is the situation for childcare then?

Childcare in Europe
In Europe, parents spend an average of 13% of their salaries on childcare; in the UK by comparison it is double at 27%, nearly the highest in the...
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