EU Forum

Social Europe

Social Europe from the Spanish view

30 May 2016 - 14:04
Source: Photo © European Union, 2016

Absence of a joint position concerning Social Europe
There is no joint position in Spanish society with regard to the main tools of Social Europe, stretching out to the issues of a common EU labour market, economic governance and social dialogue and social investment. Absence of consensus stems from the social implications of these dimensions in Spain and the surge of new parties such as Podemos in the political arena who made it a priority to reformulate EU proposals concerning these three dimensions of Social Europe.

Support of the process of Europeanization
In spite of these heterogeneous positions, there is a general support of the process of Europeanization of the Spanish economy (EMU) (but not at any price). After many decades of international isolation and ideological and economic autarchy in the Franco era, Europe remains a symbol of “civilisation” and “modernisation”. Although there is an important support of this process, left wing movements, such as Podemos and Izquierda Unida, stress the need however to democratize the EU.

EU social sovereignty: from absence in the debate to the need for more democracy
Although a specific transfer of national social sovereignty to EU-level has not been part of the political agenda in Spain, left wing parties (Izquierda Unida and Podemos) have initiated a debate on ‘European sovereignty’, particularly regarding EU economic governance which is considered to be too closely linked to the financial institutions (democratic deficit).  The various political parties defend different and opposite positions on social implications regarding national sovereignty of EU economic initiatives and strengthening the free market. An example would be the political positions on TTIP. The Partido Popular and Ciudadanos support this agreement, PSOE seek amendments to TTIP and left wing parties clearly stress the lack of transparency of the TTIP negotiations, important social costs and the anti-democratic derailment of TTIP.

Flexicurity as emblematic representation of the European Social Model and labour market
The paradigm of flexicurity constitutes, for many Spanish social players, an emblematic representation of the EU proposals regarding the European Social Model. A Labour Reform Act approved in 2012 by the Spanish right wing party Partido Popular (PP) has been presented as the Spanish interpretation of this paradigm of flexicurity.

The position of the various players vis-à-vis this reform reveals important differences. Right wing party PP and centre right wing Ciudadanos are in favour of an ongoing deregulation or recommodification of the labour market. Centre left wing party PSOE supports this idea but with concessions regarding security as included in the European Commission Communication of June 2007 Left wing parties Podemos and Izquierda Unida (IU) seek to overturn this policy by, for instance, derogating this Labour Reform.

Hence, there are different interpretations of the European Social Model. On the one hand, the position exists that the promotion of economic growth at any cost leads to social cohesion. Or as Partido Popular expressed: the best social policy is providing employment. On the other hand, Podemos and IU focus on the regulation of the labour market in the wake of worsening labour conditions, high rates of temporary jobs, high unemployment rates of specific groups and the segregation of women on the labour market.

EU economic governance: from approval to redefinition
There are two clearly distinct positions on economic governance. PSOE, Partido Popular and Ciudadanos echo the proposals of European governance and are in favour of the Stability and Growth Pact and of complying with the deficit norms, which compromise their Social Agenda. Other political forces such as Podemos and IU support renegotiation and relaxation of these requirements to ensure, amongst others, sufficient financial resources for social policies to overcome impoverishment of the population.

These positions have articulated the terms of the debate on the meaning and implications of social expenditures (and, hence, two different visions regarding the meaning of Social Europe). On the one hand, they are considered a threat to the Spanish competitiveness and to the return to growth rates prior to 2007. On the other hand, they are regarded as a precondition to ensure social cohesion and to overcome polarization and impoverishment.  

Weaker social dialogue due to (EU) economic governance
The EU institutions have had an ambiguous impact on the promotion of the social dialogue. On the one hand, EU authorities support strengthening of the role of the social dialogue, mainly with regard to the implementation of employment policies in countries which suffer from high unemployment rates, such as Spain.

However, the coercive nature of the fiscal consolidation programmes has provided legitimacy to the PP government to bring about important changes in social regulations concerning employment without prior social dialogue. The two most recent labour market reforms have been unilaterally approved by the successive governments without an agreement with the social partners.  Therefore, the procedure of the social dialogue has been seriously hit since 2010.  

Conclusion: accept or challenge the terms of the European debate
The EU institutions have fostered a debate in Spain on keeping economic policies based on compliance with deficit norms, reduction of the welfare state, deregulation of the labour market, implementation of social policies and the need to reformulate labour regulations, more specifically by the individualisation of these regulations, which as such constitute a civil regression.

However, other important topics have not been addressed in the public domain. These issues have been debated by newly established groups, originating from important social movements, which seek to visualize the consequences of the Great Recession and current European regulation. These players push for a public debate about topics which have been absent in the proposals regarding Social Europe, such as labour precariousness, change of the productive model (dependence on highly labour intensive industries), the enormous power of financial institutions and power companies and the care economy.


Amparo Serrano Pascual  is Professor at the Complutense University and Carlos Rodríguez is researcher at the Complutense University.


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