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Beyond national social rights

01 Jan 2005-pp 225-243
About: The article was published on 2005-01-01 and is currently open access. It has received 6 citations till now. The article focuses on the topics: Social rights.

Summary (7 min read)


  • It was the state that could impose obligations of solidarity and create a union within which the strong and the weak are connected and within which collective schemes of provision could develop.
  • Another example are the Structural and Cohesion Funds, though they cannot be regarded as social policy measures in a strict sense.
  • With the establishment of European institutions and the shift of welfare responsibility to the European level, new and delicate problems arise, because these processes partly dissolve the tight relationship between the nation-state community and state-organized welfare provision.
  • This article seeks to address the problem of Europeanization by looking at the issue of public support for a transfer of responsibility from the member state government to the European.


  • Inheritor of the ancient Greek concept of politeia , the state in Europe emerged gradually, to varying degrees and in response to various dynamics, from around the twelfth century until the end of the eighteenth century.
  • On the other hand, the strengthened apparatus of the state serves to reinforce both the national nature of the political community and the conception of nationhood it is believed to symbolize.
  • As well as being a system of decommodification providing protection from market forces, the welfare state has also restructured social relations and shaped the structure of society.
  • It is financed by taxes, characterized by the principle of universality, and favours public provision of free services over cash transfers.
  • These three types of welfare regime associate a specific institutional configuration with a ‘founding’ doctrine: social insurance schemes with the protection of specific occupational categories; residual benefits with the primacy of the market and the need to combat poverty; and universal benefits with the quest for equality.


  • The existing literature recognizes the role of welfare states in generating social solidarity across class groups.
  • By generating ‘an invasion of contract by status, the subordination of market price to social justice, [and] the replacement of the free market by the declaration of rights’, social citizenship rights were considered to be explicitly aimed at modifying the class structure and achieving social equality (Marshall, 1992: 40).
  • While being corroded by the forces of globalization, national identities are also subject to internal fragmentation and overlapping elements of a multiple and diverse nature (Epstein, 1978; Melucci, 1989; Castells, 1997).
  • As well as generating or reinforcing a sense of community and identity which could supersede - or sit alongside - sub-state national identities, the development of state-wide systems of welfare may also have accentuated among national minorities the uncertainty and insecurity of greater political autonomy or secession from the state.


  • In many cases, the development of systems of state welfare imposed standardization and homogenization within countries that have a considerable degree of internal asymmetry and cultural plurality.
  • Federations and federal-like systems provide good examples of both shared and self-rule based upon wide constitutional agreements among layers of government and constituent territorial units (Elazar, 1991; Watts, 1994; Linz, 1997; Obinger et al., 2005).
  • Politically decentralized and federal states are characterized by a set of institutional arrangements that divide power between the centre and some or all regions.
  • Where territorial units coincide with sub-state national, linguistic or cultural boundaries, their political significance is likely to be reinforced.
  • In highly decentralized or federal states, by contrast, the development of state welfare has often been shared between the centre and the provincial level, thus constraining the ‘command-and-control’ efforts by the central state to develop uniform state-wide social services and national institutions.


  • During the trentes glorieuses, or ‘Golden Age’, of welfare capitalism (1945-75), West European systems of social protection were based upon the assumption of full employment and on the complementary role developed by the family and, in particular, of women’s unpaid work within households (Lewis, 1997, 2001).
  • There is a widespread belief that the welfare state in many advanced industrial democracies has come under pressure in the last two decades.
  • Where access to and control over the centre and its resources becomes less critical, state-wide political parties and movements may have greater difficulty containing sub-state national identities and corresponding territorial demands.
  • They are subject to the same socio-demographic pressures and necessity of a greater inter-connectedness with institutions and actors beyond their boundaries (Jones, 1995).
  • Critics of the de-structuring of the old order have suggested that globalization, decentralization and the increasing role of sub-state governments may bring about two major drawbacks to welfare development: (a) Sub-state governments may be more sensitive to pressures from the business community for increased flexibility, lower taxation and lower public spending.


  • These governmental interactions affect actors and policy networks traditionally confined to operating in nation-state arenas.
  • Supra-national processes such as Europeanization seek to accommodate long-standing national traditions with a common political will expressed by countries sharing a somewhat similar historical development and embracing values of democracy and human rights of an egalitarian nature.
  • It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many processes of political decentralization within contemporary European pluri-national states have gained momentum in parallel with the development of Europeanization.
  • The development of social policy within and beyond the state compels state and sub-state governments alike to manage welfare systems within a multi-tiered polity.
  • The European Court of Justice has used its authority to impose requirements upon member states, for example, to ensure their social policies are compatible with labour mobility objectives and to secure entitlements to health care and social security for EU citizens throughout the Union.


  • The UK case provides useful insight into the territorial politics of welfare.
  • The defence of the welfare state has found expression in the occasional promotion of universalist policies and in the cautious desire to resist managerial reforms and policy initiatives introduced at the UK level.
  • The total budget of the devolved administrations is dependent upon expenditure limits set for UK government departments.
  • Mitchell, J. (1990) Conservatives and the Union, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.


  • Note that in Wilhelmine Germany, social insurance institutions were established prior to political rights (Flora and Alber, 1981).
  • Such practices - labelled at times as tortuous or ‘joint-trap decision’ mechanisms - aim at maximizing administrative interdependence and are better suited to countries with political cultures grounded on values of pact, negotiation and tolerance (Duchacek, 1970).
  • In the case of the united states, sub-state spatial identities are not commensurable with the type of collective identities deeply rooted in the volkgeist of the diverse european peoples.
  • These two French citizens appealed to the European Court after having been denied their expressed option of paying their social contributions to a private scheme instead of the compulsory social insurance.


  • The development of the United Kingdom state was never accompanied by an aggressive nation-building strategy.
  • A sense of British national identity did develop, but it was more the result of living together in a state, and the shared experiences of war and sacrifice, than the result of any stateendorsed drive to forge a shared sense of British nationhood.
  • William Beveridge’s report on Social Insurance and Allied Services (1942) proposed a structure of flat-rate, contributory insurance that would provide a universal safety-net while not jeopardising private saving.
  • The post-war welfare state established a new set of institutions which could serve a symbolic purpose in underlining the boundaries and identity of the United Kingdom as a nation, as well as a state.
  • As the post-war UK government embarked upon its programme of welfare expansion, the government of Northern Ireland largely followed suit, in spite of Unionist unease at 'creeping socialism' and initial fears of the threat to provincial autonomy that such state expansion may generate (Connolly, 1990: 45-9).


  • To remain successful, a strategy emphasising the advantages of access to central resources over autonomy was contingent upon the capacity of the state to deliver (Keating, 1989: 98).
  • The success of the SNP, in particular, prompted the Labour Government in 1974 to renew its commitment to Scottish and Welsh devolution, leading to a decade dominated by devolution debates and, ultimately, to the failed devolution referendums of 1979.
  • The rhetoric of welfare retrenchment during the Thatcher years was rather more radical than its policy outcomes (Marsh and Rhodes, 1992: 170-87).
  • In social security, the government's strategy was to contain spending increases rather than reduce overall expenditure.
  • In Scotland, in particular, where the movement for self-government was strongest, the establishment of a Scottish Parliament replaced access to the centre as the primary goal of those demanding policies to address Scotland’s socio-economic problems.


  • The Labour government elected in 1997 broadly accepted the social and economic reforms of its predecessors.
  • The government restricted itself to Conservative spending limits in its first two years, but expenditure in health and education has risen markedly since 1999.
  • A prominent theme of the Blair government has been welfare reform initiatives promoting personal responsibility and a transition from welfare dependence to employment.
  • But, while the devolved administrations enjoy the power to distribute their budgets according to their priorities, they have little power to redistribute income and resources from the wealthy to the poor (Mitchell, 1998).

The Disintegration of the UK Welfare State? Policy Divergence and Convergence

  • Notwithstanding their limits on redistributive powers, the UK’s sub-state regions have been granted varying degrees of autonomy over large areas of the welfare state, including health, education, housing and personal social services.
  • After extended debate, Northern Ireland resisted the adoption of a universalist policy, and introduced a means-tested exemption from fees that covered most of the population, as well as various new grants (Osborne 2002; Wilson and Wilford, 2004: 98).
  • Part of the explanation for such policy divergence can be found in the institutional context in which devolved politics operates.
  • The second pressure for policy divergence in Scotland and Wales emerges from the wider parliamentary composition (Northern Ireland is again distinctive, with 'key decisions' requiring cross-community support).
  • In addition, UK government reforms to the health service in the two years preceding devolution left a substantial policy inheritance to the devolved administrations, and they often continued in a similar direction.


  • The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in February-May 2000 and since October 2002, and executive functions reverted to the UK Government, also known as Note.
  • 3-5) for full details of the three constitutional settlements, also known as See Hazell (2000.

Total managed

  • The budget for the devolved administrations also includes ‘annually managed expenditure’ on transfer items under little or no policy control (in 2002-03, Scotland £2.2bn, Wales £0.4bn, Northern Ireland £5.6bn [including social security]).
  • Source: HM Treasury, Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2004 (London: The Stationery Office, Cm 6201, 2004) tables 1.4, 1.7 and 3.3 i A notable exception, however, was the community charge (poll tax), introduced in Scotland a year ahead of England and Wales, in order to avoid an unwelcome revision of the property valuations on which local taxes had previously been levied.
  • The Welsh devolution proposals failed by a margin of 80-20, while the Scottish margin was 48-52, a small majority vote in favour of devolution.
  • Iv Northern Ireland is again the exception, where the party system is unique and operates entirely outwith the British party system.


  • The remarkable success in establishing relatively equal living conditions in the pre-1990 FRG, along with the strong leadership displayed by the federal government led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the process of unification, prompted serious questions about the nature of the German state.
  • As a result, reform projects in many policy areas have taken a long time in the legislative process and have taken on so much of a compromise character that they are no longer capable of fulfilling their original aim.
  • In the first chamber of the German Parliament, the Bundestag, only half the members represent a constituency, while the other half are effectively party representatives elected on regional quota.
  • Secondly, neither the federal nor the Land legislatures are constitutionally empowered to act unilaterally in a wide range of policy areas, with constitutional co-operation requirements augmented by a series of formal agreements and informal links from which the dense grid of Politikverflechtung is woven.
  • If the challenges and external pressures are severe enough – such as with several reforms of regional development policy-coordination both before and after the introduction of a distinct EC/EU regional policy, and with the economic reconstruction tasks derived from German unification since 1990 – a close working relationship between the federal and Land levels can produce enormous benefits.


  • A comprehensive welfare system is expensive, and becomes less affordable in times of economic crisis.
  • By the same token, the Länder are very limited in their own freedom of manoeuvre unless they get the permission – or at least acquiescence – for their own reform ideas from the federal level.
  • It is in this context that the current welfare reform debate in Germany takes place.
  • The first two reform packages, commonly known as Hartz I+II, were aimed at reforming the employment market.
  • The old federal taxation-funded Arbeitslosenhilfe (need based, lower-level unemployment benefit, again a percentage of the former wage) and the traditional, locally-funded Sozialhilfe (for all those not entitled to any unemployment benefit) are to be scrapped as of 1 January 2005.


  • It would certainly be quite inaccurate to blame all the current economic and social difficulties in the German federal system on German unification and its aftermath.
  • Three factors, to some extent intertwined, can be identified which created very difficult conditions for the establishment of a Western-type welfare state in the Eastern Länder: a lack of previous contribution payments; significant demographic shifts in patterns of residency and employment; and the severely limited ability of local authorities to raise revenues at the local level.
  • Up to now, the protracted funding problems have not been without consequences for the social acceptability of the welfare state.
  • There are two rather persuasive arguments in favour of a further federalization of welfare matters.


  • The French Welfare state combines these principles of central state steering, social partnership and territorial accommodation.
  • Healthcare, social policy and human capital policies all have a territorial, as well as a welfare dimension.
  • Healthcare provision is, in the main, managed by the social partners (employers and trade unions) through the national healthcare social fund (CNAM - Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie).
  • Underlying demographic trends aggravate these intractable problems of financing social protection.
  • In 1988, the Rocard government introduced the minimum income (revenu minimum d’insertion [RMI]), a social minimum to be funded from general taxation.


  • France’s dynamic post-war modernisation occurred in spite of local government.
  • The French Socialist government’s decentralization reforms of 1982-83 were a major landmark in French administrative history that challenged this traditional model in some important respects.
  • In addition, urban communes usually sponsor a range of semi-autonomous agencies, associations or partnership bodies to deliver services in areas such as careers advice, youth integration, childcare or employment advice.
  • Crucially, however, the state-region plans help to legitimize the idea of a regional public sphere within which numerous organizations interact in a relationship of ‘competitive interdependency’ (Breuillard and Cole, 2003).
  • The most formidable obstacle to developing local and regional policies has been the converging pressures for recentralization: from threatened interests (such as teachers or careers advisors), from pre-existing institutions and from embedded ideas equating all decentralization with neo-liberalism or worse.


  • With the re-election of Jacques Chirac as President in May 2002, France entered into another period of major institutional reform.
  • French sub-national governance rests upon a complex actor system, whereby several levels with overlapping responsibilities manage policy.
  • In the area of social services, finally, the 2003 law vested departments with complete control over the minimum income and the old age dependency allowance and transferred control over social workers to the departments.
  • Regions did not, in general, merely want to take over central government service responsibilities (for example, buildings and equipment) but sought to influence substantive policy choices (for example, in education or health).
  • The authors should also note the strength of opposition from groups of public sector workers to the law, in addition to the predictable caution of the Council of State.


  • As discussed above, Flemish political elites frequently try to put the issue of social security on to the political agenda.
  • With those feeling exclusively or more Walloon than Belgian more favourable to regionalization than those whose primary identity is Belgian, overall, Walloons are much less inclined to support splitting social security between levels of government.
  • Today in Belgium, social security is translated into a form of solidarity between all Belgians, independent of their ‘membership’ of one region or one community.
  • It has been argued that the increase of competencies in the social field may foster the legitimacy of a territorialized entity and, in this case, may increase the political legitimacy of Flemish institutions (Spinnewyn, 1998: 124).
  • Secondly, social security decentralization would require constitutional change at the federal level.

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Content maybe subject to copyright    Report

The Territorial
of Welfare
Nicola McEwen and Luis Moreno

Chapter 1
Luis Moreno and Nicola McEwen: Exploring the Territorial Politics of Welfare
Chapter 2
Nicola McEwen and Richard Parry: Devolution and the Preservation of the British
Welfare St ate
Chapter 3
Jörg Mathias: Welfare Management in the German Federal System: the Emergence of
Welfare Regions?
Chapter 4
Al ist a ir Co le: Territorial Politics and Welfare Development in France
Chapter 5
Raquel Gallego, Ricard Gomà and Joan Subirats: Spain, From State Welfare to Regional
Chapter 6
Valeria Fargion: From the Southern to the Northern Question. Territorial and Social
Politics in Italy
Chapter 7
Pierre Baudewyns and Régis Dandoy: The Preservation of Social Security as a National
Function in the Belgian Federal State
Chapter 8
Kaisa Lähteenmäki-Smith: Changing Political Contexts in the Nordic Welfare States. The
central-local relationship in the 1990s and beyond
Chapter 9
Daniel Béland and André Lecours: Nationalism and Social Policy in Canada and Quebec
Chapter 10
Steffen Mau: European Social Policies and National Welfare Constituencies: Issues of
Legitimacy and Public Support
Chapter 11
Maurizio Ferrera: European Integration and Social Citizenship. Changing Boundaries,
New Structuring?

Writing in 1979, Robert Pinker expressed dismay at the lack of analysis within the social
sciences literature of the ‘...positive links between social policy and the recovery of a
sense of national purpose’ (1979: 29). It is only now, over two decades later, that
literature is beginning to emerge to explore the ways in which the welfare state informs,
and is informed by, territorial identity and the politics of regionalism. This collection
aspires to be a worthy contribution to this debate, situating the expansion and ongoing
development of the welfare state within the framework of territorial politics.
The collection began life at the ECPR Joint Sessions 2003 in Edinburgh in a workshop,
directed by the editors, entitled The Welfare State and Territorial Politics: an under-
explored relationship. The workshop was initiated in recognition of a gap in both the
territorial politics and social policy literature.
Existing work on the politics of sub-state regionalism and nationalism has tended to focus
upon examinations of culture and identity, political economy and institutional change.
Spatial cleavages and the quest for political decentralisation have often been examined as
responses to sub-state claims for autonomy, recognition and democratic accountability.
The significance of social policy and social welfare has hitherto been rather neglected.
Likewise, welfare state scholars have tended to neglect the territorial dimension in
welfare development. Much of the literature on the welfare state implicitly examines
welfare development within the framework of the nation-state, assuming an all-
embracing state national identity rooted in both cultural and civic axes. The nation-state,
in other words, is taken for granted. However, many advanced welfare states are
territorially heterogeneous, with citizens often holding multiple territorial identities, and
these identities have been given political significance in recent years with establishment
and reinforcement of sub-state political institutions. The restructuring of the welfare state
in recent years has thus coincided with a reconfiguration of the core-periphery
relationship, yet explicit analytical linkage between these two processes has been largely
T he r e la t io n ship between the welfare state and territorial politics is explored theoretically
and examined empirically in the chapters in this volume. Three themes emerge.
Firstly, consideration is given to the extent to which welfare development has played a
part in the politics of nation-building. Scholars of state formation have regarded the
welfare state as ‘crystallising’ the nation-state in the latter phase of modernity in the
twentieth century. Indeed, within heterogeneous or multinational states, the welfare state
may have played an important nation-building function by institutionalising shared
solidarity and shared risks. In providing for the basic needs of ‘the people’, through the
provision of income security, health care, housing, and education, the welfare state may
also have strengthened the ties that bind citizens to the state, reinforcing identification
with, belonging to and consent for the state as a national community. The weakening of
the welfare state since the mid-1970s - as a result of political, financial and demographic

pressures - has curtailed the state’s capacity to generate social solidarity across internal
territorial boundaries and has in some cases led to a decline of the centralising
command-and-control’ planning model. Such a loss of internal power and core
hegemony may have contributed to the destabilising existing territorial settlements,
fuelling demands for political autonomy among national and regional minorities.
The emergence of sub-state nationalism in many advanced western democracies has been
reflected in the establishment or strengthening of regional legislatures. In 2002, about
half of the EU-15 regions, in almost half of the member states, were ‘partner regions’, or
regions with legislative powers. The process of political decentralisation in recent years
has usually entailed the decentralisation of some areas of social policy. We consider the
extent to which decentralisation has given rise to the establishment of distinctive sub-
state welfare regimes, and the impact this decentralisation process has had for inter-
regional solidarity. On the one hand, stateless nations, like small nation-states, often share
a strong sense of national identity that may sustain a higher degree of internal solidarity
and cohesion, and recreate 'lost' social citizenship rights at the sub-state level. On the
other hand, sub-state governments are subject to similar welfare pressures as their state
counterparts, and critics of decentralisation have argued that the need to maintain
competitiveness in today's market economy is more likely to provoke a 'race to the
bottom' in welfare provision.
Finally, consideration is given to the supranational dimension of welfare and its
consequence for territorial politics and national solidarity. In Europe, the reassertion of
territorial identities and the corresponding process of political decentralisation have taken
place within the context of Europeanisation. As a multi-level political framework, the
European Union shapes the context in which national, regional and local policies are
formulated, and we consider the manner in which this new context informs welfare
development across the Union. In particular, European law and the jurisprudence of the
European Court of Justice (ECJ) is generating a degree of harmony between welfare
rights and provision across the Union, to secure labour mobility objectives. In addition,
the EU is slowly carving out a role for itself in social policy, evident in measures such as
the Social Chapter of the Treaty on European Union, and the Working Time Directive
limiting the maximum weekly hours EU citizens may be expected to work. Such
initiatives are reflections of new social rights granted in recognition of EU citizenship. In
this respect, we consider the extent to which the Europeanisation of welfare policy can
contribute to generating cross-national solidarity in Europe, and to further building the
European Union as a ‘community of trust’ to which EU citizens feel they belong.
These themes are explored theoretically in the opening chapter. The case studies which
follow conduct empirical examinations of the territorial politics of welfare, focusing in
particular on the first two themes. The third theme is taken up in the final two chapters. In
selecting the case studies, we have placed particular emphasis upon states which
encompass within their boundaries local, regional or national communities making
political claims on the basis of shared identities. One non-EU case, Canada, has been
included in the volume for two reasons. Firstly, the welfare state in Canada shares many

of the features of European systems of welfare, which distinguish it from the North
American model. Secondly, whereas the relationship between the welfare state and
territorial politics has been neglected among scholars of European politics and social
policy, this cannot be said of the Canadian scholarly community. Issues of national unity
are rarely far from the political agenda in Canada, and the Canadian welfare state
emerged with the explicit aim of generating inter-regional solidarity across the Canadian
provinces. As Béland and Lecours discuss in their chapter, the Canadian welfare state
was at times promoted and hampered by the federal state structure, and social policy
development continues to generate tension in federal-provincial inter-governmental
relations, particularly vis-à-vis Québec (see also Banting, 1987; McEwen, 2001).
Most of the contributors to this book were involved in the original ECPR workshop, and
we are enormously grateful to them for their contributions to this collection, as well as for
their patience and good will in the editing process. We would like to also take the
opportunity to thank those participants at the workshop who do not appear in this volume,
but whose contributions helped make the workshop a success, and undoubtedly informed
the development of the chapters which do appear here.
We are grateful to the ECPR for facilitating the workshop and allowing us to bring
together such a stimulating group of scholars. The workshop was supported by the ECPR
Standing Group on Regionalism. We are indebted to the group, and especially, to its co-
convenor, Michael Keating, for his unstinting support and helpful guidance along the
way. We are also very grateful to the ESRC Programme on Devolution and
Constitutional Change, and to its Director, Charlie Jeffery, for sponsoring some of the
activities at the workshop, and for the opportunity to learn from new research conducted
by some of this programme's participants.
We are strongly of the view that the territorial politics of welfare is an area worthy of
much deeper exploration than it has been given within the existing literature. With this
volume, we aim to make a contribution to this endeavour. We would like to thank
Routledge, and in particular, Grace McInnes, Heidi Bagtazo and the series editor,
Thomas Poguntke, for the confidence they have shown in our project, and for their
friendly advice and support in putting together this volume. The chapters in this volume
are primarily written from the perspective of scholars of territorial politics. Others have
examined this inter-relationship from the welfare perspective. We would acknowledge
one such contribution, Federalism and the Welfare State (Obinger, Leibfried and Castles,
2005) and express our gratitude to its authors for a preview of sections of their edited
vo lu me .
Finally, Nicola McEwen's contribution to this project was supported by an ESRC Post-
doctoral fellowship (T026 271402). Luis Moreno also thanks the Spanish Secretary of
State for Education and Universities (PR2002-0200) for financial support.
Banting, K. (1987) The Welfare State and Canadian Federalism (2nd edition), Montreal,
McGill-Queen’s University.

Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What are the contributions in "The territorial politics" ?

In this paper, the authors explored the relationship between welfare development and territorial politics in a theoretical sense, with subsequent chapters examining this relationship in specific empirical contexts. 

Without delving too deeply here into the debate on social justice, however, it can be argued, as indeed does Bo Rothstein ( 1998 ), that the future of the welfare state is largely dependent upon how it is organized and managed ; citizens are likely to support the welfare state and its interventionist policies in so far as those policies have been designed in accordance with the principle of justice. If they are implemented in a way that is considered ‘ fair ’ by the citizens, and if they believe that the burden is shared evenly, then the system will continue to survive. This may not be an easy task even in these circumstances, however it is likely to be the best available option as a return to a fully-funded, centralized and universal system is fiscally improbable, while the complete abandonment of the universalist model in the face of further privatization would be fundamentally unpopular politically.