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Conversations on Europe. "The European Social Model: What the EU Could Learn from the U.S."

Thursday, January 12, 2012
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University.

European social model

The notion of a European social model assumes that European societies have certain features in common that distinguish them positively from the United States, most notably the social partnership in labour relations, redistributive welfare state schemes, and cohesive societies with a low degree of social inequality. The lecture examines to what extent the social reality in the EU conforms to this normative image and which challenges imperil the sustainability of the European social model. Special attention is drawn to the influence of supranational decision-making in the European Union and to the role of the European Court of Justice. Professor Alber argues that Court rulings imperil the viability of national social programs, because they open schemes that continue to be exclusively financed by national tax payers to transnational access. This introduces not only unfunded mandates for the member states, but is also in tension with the solidarity concepts of European citizens, which continue to be framed in terms of national citizenship. To learn about possible solutions, the EU might benefit from turning to the U.S. experience where the reasoning behind Supreme Court rulings is publicly accessible and thus made more transparent; where single states usually make a difference between in-state and out-of-state students in calculating tuitions; and where unfunded mandates of the federal government are likely to meet state resistance and a tax-welfare backlash.
Jens Alber received his PhD in Sociology and Political Science at University of Mannheim He is specializing in the social structure of European societies, gender, welfare and inequality in Germany and the United States. He taught at Universität Konstanz, Universität zu Köln and was a guest lecturer at several U.S. universities: MIT, Wisconsin-Madison and Cornell University where he was the 2001 Luigi Einaudi Chair. His most recent publications include: Family and the Welfare State in Europe. Intergenerational Relations in Ageing Societies (w/ Agnes Blome and Wolfgang Keck); United in Diversity? Comparing Social Models in Europe and America (ed./w Neil Gilbert); and articles, "Do New Labour activation policies work? A descriptive analysis of the German Hartz reforms," and "What – if anything – is undermining the European Social Model?" (WZB Discussion Papers).