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Integration between nation and state creates welfare

In the making of the nation states of the nineteenth and twentieth century, state builders used social policies alongside broadening the base of their democracies to bind citizens to the state. History shows that not only treaties, constitutional clear demarcations and democratic rights are necessary means to strengthen the European Union and improve the interaction between the Union and its population.

Under the current EU treaties, formulating EU social policies is not easy. Health and social security fall under the provisions of subsidiarity and thus are the prerogative of the national governments. Even so, in the last legislative, the European commission has put forward proposals to give the EMU a friendly face and to strengthen the basis for the free market, anti-Eurocrisis measures. For the most part these proposals were rejected by the more prominent member states.

There are many reasons why European countries developed some sort of welfare state. The role of the state in these systems took many forms and waxed and waned. Otto von Bismarck for instance used progressive democratic and social measures in his building of the nineteenth century German Reich. States nevertheless had to take into account that organizations like the church and those of employers and workers also had an interest in the efficient working of the social security measures. Hence the system of subsidiarity was put into practice.

For many people the introduction of, for instance, compulsory insurance against the effects of sickness and old age, was the first tangible contact they had with the state. By democratizing the social security systems and giving civil society a role in its implementation, it integrated state and society. It brought prosperity and stability, also during economic crises.

After the Second World War in the west systems were developed that Roosevelt among others hoped would achieve freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The Atlantic Charter and the English Beveridge plan were ways to provide an alternative for the authoritarian Nazi-, Fascist and Communist regimes and were meant as blueprints for after the war. In the years that followed the classical welfare state came to fruition.

In May 2013 Jürgen Habermas published his article 'Democracy, Solidarity And The European Crisis' in which he analyzed the gap between the EU and its citizens. He warned that there is a 'technocratic dilemma' and a lack of solidarity. He believes there is reason for Germany as a key player to no longer resist greater solidarity achieved by a Political Union. This is not only in its own interest but also a moral obligation.

In the same year the European Commission, represented by commissioner László Andor, launched a plan for a basic unemployment insurance to try and do just that. In a Communication the EC proposed a social dimension to the political, fiscal and economic components of the EMU. In the German paper Die Welt this idea was presented as a plan to make Germany pay for Europe's jobless. It was no surprise that Angela Merkel was first among most leaders of northern EU members to vehemently oppose this Communication of the EC. The EU, dominated in this respect by the European Council, expands its grip on things like national budgets but is not willing to lend a helping hand to those who feel the budgetary measures the most.

These 'onesided' measures by the European Council, comprised of the heads of member states, are so unpopular with EU citizens that they overshadow positive developments like the granting of the right to vote in 1979 and the strengthened position of the EP since the Lisbon Treaty came into effect in 2009. History has shown that an integration between nation and state and between elites and their peoples is possible and can create welfare and stability in a democratic society, whatever its size.

European Parliament/Results of the 2014 European elections
The future of the Economic and Monetary Union: Commission proposes ideas to deepen social integration, (2013)
J. Habermas, 'Democracy, Solidarity And The European Crisis', Social Europe, 7 May 2013
N. Mussche, Immigration and the Formation of the Open Welfare State – The Belgian Example, (2008)
D. Rigter, 'Belgian Mutual Health Insurance and the Nation State', in: B. Harris, Welfare and Old Age in Europe and North America: The Development of Social Insurance, (London 2012)
Dennis J. Snower, 'A Question of Identity', Süddeutsche Zeitung, 21 August 2015
A. de Swaan, In care of the state: health care, education, and welfare in Europe and the USA in the modern era, (Oxford 1998)
'EU will, dass Berlin für Europas Arbeitslose zahlt', Die Welt, 3 October 2013
J. Leerssen over de uitvinders van de natiestaat, Youtube, December 2013

Deze pagina is een initiatief van historisch onderzoeksbureau Ecade

Danièle Rigter publishes on different elements of the history of the welfare state. She wrote about the role of the Dutch department of Labour and about several private organisations. Her latest publications are about Dutch and Belgian social insurance and about the relationship between different levels of government and its citizens. Her research focuses on the aspects of nationbuilding, democracy and citizenship in the making of the welfare state. For the Centre for the History of Health Insurance (Kenniscentrum Historie Zorgverzekeraars) in the Department of Medical Humanities at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam she was responsible for the management of the heritage of health insurance organisations.

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