Social Investment Perspective and European Union: An Iron Fist in Velvet Glove?

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 11 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Bettina LEIBETSEDER, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Department of Politics and Social Policy, Austria
Despite economic downturn and neo-liberal ideas, the Social Investment Perspective should assist social policy to sustain and strengthen its raison d’être in Europe. Despite criticisms, the discussion seems to miss the wood for the trees. The reason for synthesizing the social investment strategy was to re-align Keynesian and neo-liberal social policy and to provide a viable alternative for policy makers (Morel et al. 2012). To foster economic growth, full employment and social cohesion (as well as inclusion) simultaneously, Morel et al. want to re-channel welfare state resources to address skill demand and to provide social security and social services that support a more flexible labor market and raise overall employment rates. Actors on national and supra-national level should reconsider their policies accordingly.

Fierce debates succeeded, but have omitted the European Commission’s Social Investment Package. The European Commission has published numerous social policy papers under the Social Investment Package in 2013. Those documents can serve as an indicator on the degree of neo-liberalism incorporated in the social investment perspective by a main actor. As the European Union, especially its non-majoritarian institutions like the Commission, is condemned as neo-liberal driving force, the impact of the social investment perspective in its social policy papers is crucial.

To be able to assess the effect of the social investment perspective and extend of neo-liberalism in European social policy, the article elaborates theoretical aspects on neo-liberalism in relation to the social investment perspective and establishes criteria for the assessment. Second, the developed grid measures the share of neo-liberal social policy in core European social investment policy documents via a qualitative content analysis. Subsequently, key aspects are discursively elaborated to provide for depth. Third, the discussion ties together the empirical findings and theoretical arguments and, fourth, the conclusion evaluates the direction of the European social policy.