Convergence towards a unique „continental“ model of the welfare state in Europe? The importance of regional integration for Swiss welfare state reform
funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation
2001 - 2003
The project focuses on institutional welfare state modification in advanced democracies and particularly in Switzerland since 1975. With regard to still strongly divergent levels of welfare state expenditure recent analyses emphasize divergence rather than convergence in industrialized welfare states for this period (Esping-Andersen 1996, Stephens et al 1999, Kohl 1999). These analyzes focus on outcomes like social security expenditure rather than on the quality of policy change. There is much evidence for convergence towards a unique welfare state model in Europe with regard to qualitative change of instruments, though. We expect that in real world ideally-typical regime boundaries as proposed by Esping-Andersen (1990) are eroding particularly in Western Europe. We test this convergence hypothesis by comparing social policy modifications in advanced democracies. We argue that increasing intention to regulatory harmonization in social policy matters in the European Union and the public discourse about the exigencies created by globalisation more and more influence the development of the European welfare state. „Regulatory convergence“ denotes a complex process of change. We focus on convergence as a set of intended decisions to produce similarity and not as a non-voluntary adaptation (as discussed by neoliberal economists). Instead of analyzing policy outcomes (e.g. social security expenditure) we concentrate on the type of instruments and their modifications (e.g. social policy programs), asking whether a narrowing of differences occurred. The major argument in comparative social policy analysis points to different institutional prerequisites determining path-dependent modifications with the result of policy divergence or continuing diversity. We agree that path-dependent policy change occurs and that distinctiveness in national social policy outcomes is empirically evident. But comparing the quality of institutional change we expect to find important similarities particularly in European democracies in the sense of a reduction of diversity. The main working hypothesis of our project can be summarized as follows: Welfare state programs in Western Europe are converging towards a common continental model. The perception of globalization by political elites and EU-integration are major forces behind this process, even in countries like Switzerland, not being EU-members. These external variables of convergence go together with domestic forces of convergence (like the similarity of European societies); partially they are offset by domestic institutions and politics hindering change. Hence the outcome of institutional development is contingent on a variety of external and internal forces.