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