European Integration and the Welfare State

European Union: Specific Programs and Regional Development

Specific Benefits and Programs - Regional Development

by Kevin Chernosky

How are regional development and social policy linked?

Social policy and regional development are connected because social policy must cater to regional development in order to maintain a successful single market. This is because less developed areas will not harmonize with other areas unless aided in that process through some sort of redistribution of wealth. Social policy by definition, achieves an outcome that would not by itself, have been accomplished under market conditions. Redistribution is a form of social policy in so far as it takes money from wealthier regions and allocates it to poorer ones. The underlying idea here is that if the lesser-developed areas are ignored, the whole of Europe will not be able to move forward. The goal of a single market is to ensure free movement of goods, services, and people. The difference in prosperity and opportunities across Europe is intended to stimulate economic mobility, as people migrate in search of jobs or as companies relocate in search of cheaper labor. Yet, if the disparity between European regions is too great (regions that are more than 25% poorer than the average) then there is the threat of fragmentation. This was intended to be prevented by the European Social Fund (ESF).

What is the ESF?

The European Social Fund (ESF) was created under article 123 of the Treaty of Rome. Its role was expanded under the Maastrict Treaty in which two main goals were identified. Those were to combat unemployment resulting from specific EU policies and to overcome structural problems that regions face. The ESF was given the general objective of promoting cohesion in the sense that it was to enhance the coordination of regional and social policies. Since its reform, the ESF (under Maastrict) has been funded by the EU budged and has thus been promoting EU initiatives rather than those of the member states. The primary concern of the ESF has been the issue of unemployment (See Archer and Butler, and European Commission).

What are some of the specific action plans and guidelines? How do these impact member states? How do member states respond to decisions by the EU? Do we find evidence of competitive state building?

Countries of the EU are called upon to implement National Action Plans (NAP's) in certain policy areas such as, for example, employment. Member states are required to work within certain guidelines set up by the EU in order to implement the NAP's In terms of employment, those were to address four pillars or areas: employability, entrepreneurship, adaptability, and equal opportunity.

Under the title of employability the policy measure to be included addressing specifically youth unemployment, the shift from welfare to work, lifelong training, and placement of individuals from school to work. Under entrepreneurship national action plans aimed at reduction of costs and burdens to business, increased self-employment, local job creation, as well as reducing of the tax burden on labor and lowering the value added tax. In the section titled "adaptability" there was a call for increased participation of the social partners, and greater investment in human resources. Finally, under the title of equal opportunities to shorten the gender gap, family oriented welfare policies, reintegration and the rights of the disabled were stressed. Based on these shared goals EU member countries worked toward the implementation of these plans that were adopted to cater to specific national problems (see European Commission).

What is the verdict of experts?

Experts on the EU believe that important gains have been made in the areas of regional and social policy. However, that is not to say that there is no room for further progress. In this context, the European Social Charter is seen as a comprehensive blueprint for social and regional policy. It is evident that multi-regional development, as was intended under Maastrict, has aided in efforts to enhance and sustain growth in the EU.

As the EU considers the expansion into the countries of East and Central Europe, regional policies will continue to be an ever more prominent issue in the EU's agenda. This is because these future member states are likely to be the primary recipients of such funds. Governmental progress toward an "ever closer union" to continue regional development will shoulder much of the burden of the transition of these prospective member countries into the EU.

Kevin Chernosky