Socio-Political Trends in the Member States of the European Union

Essay 2008 19 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: European Union



1.1. The concept of “Welfare Regimes”
1.2. Typologies of welfare regimes –purpose and significance
1.3. The typology of Esping-Anderson – pros and cons
1.4. A five dimensional ranking – significance for European policymakers

2.1. Summary
2.2. An example pro Leibfried’s theses
2.3. Examples contra Leibfried’s theses


1. Welfare Systems in Europe

1.1. The concept of “Welfare Regimes”

While the term “welfare” is used in the public discourse of all Europe as well as in USA, China1 or Russia2, the semantic differences can be considerable. Due to different histories, religions, structures etc.3 it may mean an ideal vision of everybody’s happiness or a concept of equal chances or a concept to ensure the coverage of basic needs. Therefore the question by whom (e.g. government, private institutions etc.) or how it is provided (e.g. public spending or private services etc.) is also answered in different ways. The term refers to different policy areas, too. For example, while Germany traditionally considers educational policy as a sepa­rate policy area the Scandinavian States and the United Kingdom see educational issues as an integrated part of welfare policy4.

A “welfare regime” can be defined as the sum of all rules, principles and methods, explicit or otherwise that determine a society’s policy making, organisation and realisation of measures in order to provide and secure its current concept of welfare.

The classification of “regimes” is derived from the comparative political science. It defined special terms for international policy areas and institutions in order to develop a framework of reference by which different systems could be qualitatively compared5. Based on four struc­tural parameters6 a common structure was developed that can be adapted to other policy ar­eas. A “regime” therefore does not classify political actors (institutions, governments etc.) but their relevant “set of rules” i.e. the form in which they act, the principles they act upon and the goals they want to achieve.5

1.2. Typologies of welfare regimes –purpose and significance

The development of an overall regime theory led to the definition of “typologies” that can be used for socio-political research too. The approach uses a fact basis, i.e. empirical and statis­tical data.

This comparative socio-political research shows crucial differences between or can lead to a “benchmarking” of systems. This information is valuable for the political discourse and a soci-ety’s decisions on the future of its welfare system. For this, measurable indicators have to be defined by which “rankings” can be created that qualitatively compare different regimes, e.g. by their policy, by their inputs, production (i.e. type/typology) operations or outcomes7 1.3. Rankings deliver an opportunity to learn from other systems’ good or bad practices. Rankings can also evaluate the effects of regimes, e.g. on unemployment and social exclusion8. Such information is especially important in the European Union with the shared responsibility of Member States and EU-institutions for the social system and the rivalry of different social models when it comes to developing a future “European Social Model”.

To be significant i.e. to provide reliable and sound information a ranking must describe and analyse the welfare regimes as comprehensively and transparently as possibly. Therefore it must take care not to “compare the incomparable”. As “welfare” and “welfare policy” are di­versely defined, the adequate definition and demarcation of an analysis’ subject is not always easy. The different “dimensions” of welfare regimes have to be considered:

-The “domain” dimension

Comparative research is mostly based on empirical and statistical data and facts, but “the usefulness of any regime model for understanding the empirical pattern of welfare provision may differ between welfare domains (e.g.) because of the distinctiveness of the problems ad­dressed (...) . It is quite possible, for instance, that the principles underlying the provision of welfare with respect to health may differ from those with respect to the labour market”9

Another question is, which domains a society thinks to be part of its welfare policy. If an analysis e.g. strives to compare German and British welfare measures for younger people, a focus only on the German definition of “welfare policy” could produce spoiled results. While the total figures of British public spending on the welfare of younger people should include costs of educational measures (e.g. schools and universities), the total figures of the German federal government should mostly exclude such costs.

-The “institutional” dimension

As the concept of “regimes” was originally developed for the analysis of international institu-tions5 , the existence and the prominent role of governments and other public institutions were never in doubt. Welfare systems however include private organisations or other private actors like families etc.10 So there is no “given” institutional framework for welfare regimes but every regime has its own “mix” of public and/or private actors. As a result the institutional framework of welfare regimes differs very much. For example, while the German society considers wel­fare primary a task of the government11, many welfare regimes in the USA12 include private, mutual and corporative interests and actors13.

-The “structural” dimension

Welfare regimes may concentrate mostly on public spending of the government or insurance systems or they may include an extensive part of social work like providing shelter, free food, clothing etc. Other welfare regimes may offer a mix of these measures. This “mix” often de­pends on the institutional framework of a welfare regime.

-The “economic, cultural and historical” dimensions

A comparison between the welfare systems of Germany and India would have to consider another dimension. While e.g. the German family welfare policy includes a broad variety of measures, from public financial support to parents and day care for children, the Indian “fam- ily welfare programme” mostly concentrates on reducing the birth rate and achieving a better health care for women14. One reason for this difference may lie in the German desire to see more children born to an “ageing society” that can no longer finance the social insurance sys­tems while India is of the opinion that the population produces more children than the soil can feed, the economy can sustain and the educational system can absorb. Besides the very idea of a government actively encourage and promote contraception would go against religious and social taboos in Germany as well as against her economic interests. The example under­lines that the definition of the term “welfare” and, dependent on this, the respective welfare regime does not depend on a country’s wealth or structural questions alone but also on un­derlying differences of societies, their values and, not at least, their history. These differences may be described as “cultural differences”5.

An example for the results of historical developments is the wide exclusion of educational is­sues from the German welfare policy. The German regime arose from 19th-20th century public insurance systems which were meant to pacify the working class that threatened to weaken the conservative political foundation of the imperial government while strengthening the leftist Social Democratic Party (SPD). At that time educational policy was a “top priority” of bour-geoisie15. After the Second World War the new Western German democracy should be pro­tected from the enforced cultural conformity of the National Socialists. While there should be as much variety as possible in political or social education, the concept of “Social Capitalism” should be enforced uniformly in the whole Federal Republic of Germany16. As a result Ger-many’s federal government is mainly responsible for welfare policy but educational policy is mainly the responsibility of the 16 German federal states.4

As welfare regimes differ in different dimensions, comparative research on welfare regimes must not focus only on principles, rules etc. but on all dimensions which shape a society’s concept of welfare.


1 Gao, Shusheng. “What kind of social welfare system does China need ?” 2002. http://www.globalaging.org/pension/world/socialsecurity.htm

2 Curtis, Glenn E. “Russia: A Country Study; Chapter: Social Welfare “ 1996;

3 Ib. and Opielka, Michael. “Welfare Regime und soziale Dienstleistungen. Ein Vergleich USA – Deutschland”, 2006; pp. 19 ff.

4 Pilz, Frank. “Der Sozialstaat - Ausbau, Kontroversen, Umbau” Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2004; p. 16

5 Opielka, Michael. “Welfare Regime und soziale Dienstleistungen. Ein Vergleich USA – Deutsch­land”, 2006; p. 16.

6 implicit or explicit principles, norms, methods and decision making procedures

7 The five main approaches to the comparison of welfare states by Deborah Mitchell (Source:Spicker, Paul (Robert Gordon University Aberdeen). “An introduction to social policy – Chapter: The welfare state”. Juli 2008. http://www2.rgu.ac.uk/publicpolicy/introduction/wstate.htm

8 Gallie, Duncan, und Serge Paugam. „ Unemployment, Welfare Regimes and Social Exclusion “., Oxford; Paris, Brussels. 2000.

9 Ib. P. 3

10 Spicker, Paul (Robert Gordon University Aberdeen). “An introduction to social policy, Chapter: So­cial Administration”. Juli 2008. http://www2.rgu.ac.uk/publicpolicy/introduction/socadmin.htm

11 Art. 20 I Grundgesetz: “The Federal Republic is a (...) welfare state”

12 The USA do not have one but pluralistic welfare systems, as welfare is not mainly a providence of the federal government but of the states (Source: Spicker, Paul (Robert Gordon University Aber­deen). “An introduction to social policy – Chapter: The welfare state”. July 2008. http://www2.rgu.ac.uk/publicpolicy/introduction/wstate.htm

13 Ib.

14 Indian ministry for health and family welfare 2008; http://mohfw.nic.in/dofw%20website/dofw.htm

15 Although there were some efforts to improve education of the working class, this was not a primary issue of the SPD

16 in order to avoid economic and social crises which had greatly contributed to Hitler’s takeover


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Title: Socio-Political Trends in the Member States of the European Union