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1“Europe is pointless!” “It’s Europe’s fault!” Media representations of European employment policies regularly employ two contradictory registers. Either (1) European recommendations are said to have no effect on member states, because the European Union (EU) has no jurisdiction over the employment sector; or (2) unpopular social measures are systematically said to be imposed by Brussels, with member states having no choice but to conform. These socio-political debates echo theoretical controversies within European studies. For some observers, who are sceptical regarding European instruments of governance, the flexible mechanisms tried out in the employment sector have no “emulation” or “harmonisation” effect. [1] They see European recommendations as vague and general, open to variable translations and interpretations which allow each state to continue along its national public policy path. [2] For other authors, however, the European Employment Strategy (EES) has indeed had an impact on the objectives, instruments and procedures in employment policy, leading to forms of convergence, [3] hybridisation, [4] and different reactions according to the capacity for resistance of each member state. [5] Although it is true that employment policy remains the jurisdiction of states, and that the possibilities for EU intervention in this area are limited, [6] this article argues that it does not follow that we should abandon the idea of studying employment policy from the perspective of Europeanisation.

2A comparative study of the reforms carried out in France, the Netherlands, and in Spain since the launch of the EES would seem to confirm that there is indeed a fully functioning European governmentality – but that clarification is required regarding the definition and dimensions of Europeanisation.

3Is it possible to talk about the “Europeanisation” of employment policy? Have the “activation” strategies implemented over the last decade in Europe with regard to social protection reduced the distance between national systems? If so, have the flexible instruments of European governance played a role in the schedule and direction of these reforms? Although European institutions have lamented the insufficient responses of states to European recommendations, [7] this study shows that European governance instruments have indeed had proven effects on the “activation” strategies deployed in three European counties; both the new frameworks implemented and the arguments mobilised in those countries’ capitals are directly inspired by the EES. In order to analyse the practical mechanisms of Europeanisation, I conducted semi-structured interviews in four countries (France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands) between 2009 and 2012 (n=71). The interviews were conducted at all levels of government involved in “active” social reform – from the departments of the DG for Employment and Social Affairs in Brussels to local social services at the municipal level (in Utrecht, Grenoble and Barcelona), as well as central government responsible for social affairs and employment in Paris, Madrid and The Hague. All interviewees were involved in the development and implementation of activation strategies. By comparing the discourses and representations of local agents with the discourse and representations of ministerial and European leaders, I was able to measure the extent to which there was a shared frame of reference [référentiel] throughout all layers of government involved in social work. [8] In the interest of comparison, I met with actors who had similar functions within each ministry, which enabled me to test the hypothesis of a cognitive harmonisation of social administrations in Europe. [9] First-hand data was collected as part of my doctoral thesis [10] and was analysed using a qualitative methodological approach. [11] This article first presents the obstacles faced by a study of Europeanisation in the area of employment, and specifically problems of theoretical definition and legal jurisdiction. It then compares national reforms and the EU texts in order to test the hypothesis of a convergence. Finally, it focuses on the four European instruments that have enabled the Europeanisation of public policy. These are: the European socialisation of administrative elites in the social sector; the changing nature of the constraints and resources that can be mobilised in internal politics; the organisation of knowledge transfers; and the financial support of the European Social Fund (ESF) for “active” reforms.

Theoretical and legal obstacles to studying Europeanisation in the employment sector

4Controversies around the impact and modalities of Europeanisation often stem from a misunderstanding concerning the concept’s definition and boundaries. [12] Before we look at the content of European policies concerning employment, we shall see that how we define Europeanisation determines research design and standard methods for testing the influence of European institutions on domestic structures, which can lead to an a priori over-interpretation or under-estimation of the role of the EU.

Europeanisation: the shadowy corners of a concept

5At the beginning of the 2000s, James Caporaso, Maria Green Cowles, Thomas Risse and their co-authors proposed that Europeanisation be studied using an approach called “goodness of fit”. [13] According to this idea, the European process produces an “adaptive pressure” on member states which is more intense the more national structures are distant from EU orientations. For these authors, it is medium-intensity adaptive pressures that have the most effect, because they imply a significant but acceptable transformation of national structures. If the state is too far removed from what the EU requires, national structures may well resist pressure (inertia), or even reinforce their particular arrangements (distancing). On the other hand, if the distances between domestic structures and European prescriptions is too small, then the national system won’t have far to go and change will be marginal (absorption).

6The analytic framework proposed by Caporaso, Cowles, Risse et al. enables us to theorise the various effects of Europeanisation. However, it tends to assume the existence of clear European pressure that has a basis in law, and that pre-exists domestic change. Within this framework, how can we account for the fact that certain states profoundly modified their system of public policy, even though the pressure for change was weak and did not have a solid legal base? [14] The second generation of studies on Europeanisation showed that the process cannot be reduced to either downward pressure from Europe to states, nor to regional integration and the transfer of sovereignty to the EU. [15] European decision-making can also be an opportunity for national elites to push through recommendations “from above” that reinforce their own projects (blame-shifting strategies [16]). In sectors where the EU has no legal jurisdiction, learning and sharing “good practice” can encourage the socialisation of European elites; national political elites are Europeanised to the extent that they absorb the rules of the game, the recommendations at European level, and the practices of other member states [17]. The classic definition proposed by Claudio Radaelli incorporates these different parameters of Europeanisation:


“Processes of (a) construction, (b) diffusion and (c) institutionalisation of formal and informal rules, procedures, paradigms, styles, ‘ways of doing’ and shared beliefs and norms which are first defined and consolidated in the making of EU public policy and politics and then incorporated in the logic of domestic discourse, identities, political structures and public policies.” [18]

8This definition enables us to link two levels of analysis (European decision-making and its domestic effects) and to take into account formal and informal rules, beliefs and cognitive frames. It allows for the possibility of studying interests and the conflict between them through analysis of domestic “logics”. However – and even though Radaelli emphasises the value of a bottom-up [19] research design – this definition tends to provide an image of Europeanisation that is clearly sequenced and vertical: process is initiated at the European level to then be applied at the domestic level. [20] More interactive, Europeanisation appears today to be a phenomenon involving reciprocal influences between politico-administrative national actors conscious of European issues [21] and institutions in Brussels which are in contact with the national level. [22] Radaelli notes that “it is important to consider this as an interactive process, not as a simple process of unidirectional reactions towards ‘Europe’”. [23] How can we express this continual process of exchange, of (re)definition of problems, norms and solutions between the European and national levels? How can we emphasise interaction, interdependence and cross-influences? The definition proposed by Bruno Palier and Yves Surel, although less exhaustive than Radaelli’s, is more flexible and less vertical:


“Within Europeanisation we propose to see: all the processes of institutional, strategic and normative adjustments resulting from European construction.” [24]

10This definition incorporates all the adjustments resulting from the process of European construction; local public policies, institutions, and political actors are all potentially affected by Europeanisation. It also leaves room for studies of Europeanisation beyond, or even “without Europe” – of actors or states which are remote from the perspective of integration and yet constrained to modify their policies or their governance to develop commercial or diplomatic relations with the EU, [25] or to draw on the EU as a model to follow. [26] The approach in terms of “construction” and “adjustments” shows a Europeanisation in progress and the modifications that this process leads to for all the actors concerned. Whether these changes are voluntary or constrained, correspond to the recommendations or stray from them, is not pre-empted as such. [27] In taking adjustments and thus “effects” as a starting point, this framework enables a “bottom-up” sociological approach which first studies actors and discourses on the national level, and then moves up to the European level in instances where the European variable seems relevant. [28]

11Since the work of Caporaso et al. the development of studies on Europeanisation might suggest that the EU is increasingly understood as a simple intermediary between the states. The EU is not a neutral filter however, and Palier and Surel’s definition also focuses precisely on what results from European construction. That the process is more complex than initially envisaged makes the search for causality more difficult but all the more necessary. [29] What exactly do European institutions rely on? Even without legal pressure, has “European construction” had an effect on national policy, and, if so, what effect? It is precisely this question that is raised in the employment sector where, as we will see, it is not the coercive mechanisms that have encouraged changes in national policy.

Europe and employment: a history of non-intervention?

12Noting a persistent divergence in social regimes within Europe, commentators have expressed their doubts as to the effects of the EU on domestic employment policies. [30] We might also question the precise nature of the EU’s role, given that the social sector remains the jurisdiction of member states.

13The Treaty of Rome (1957) already posed the question of the coordination of social security systems between the states; Article 117 indicated that “Member States agree upon the need to promote improved working conditions and an improved standard of living for workers, so as to make possible their harmonisation”. In order to achieve this, Article 118 allowed for “close co-operation” in terms of employment, training, law and working conditions – but without formally indicating how this might be achieved. The Maastricht Treaty specified that the Union set itself the goal to “promote economic and social progress as well as high levels of employment” (Article 2), but the notion of “high employment” had still not been defined at the beginning of the 1990s. It is unclear whether it refers to the employment rate (the proportion of individuals employed compared to the working-age population), the activity rate (the ratio between the number of active persons, including jobseekers, and the corresponding total population), or a low unemployment rate. The words “work” and “unemployment” are not mentioned explicitly [31] until in 1997 the Treaty of Amsterdam made the promotion of employment “a matter of common concern”. [32] The EES was thus launched but even within this framework the tools of the EU remain weak: Article 128 of the Amsterdam Treaty provides the EU with the power to study the employment situation in member states and make public the results in an annual report by the Commission and the Council. The “guidelines which the member states shall take into account in their employment policies” are established in view of this study. However this evaluation and the guidelines adopted are not formally binding, each member state only has to produce an “annual report on the principal measures taken to implement its employment policy”. If member states do not respect these guidelines, the Council makes recommendations to the states following the propositions of the Commission, [33] but these recommendations have no legal standing either.

14The Nice and Lisbon treaties confirmed the national prerogative in the social sector [34] and the lack of legal authority led the European institutions to concentrate on flexible instruments of governance within the framework of the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). Articles 126 and 127 of the Amsterdam Treaty leave the EU the possibility of “encouraging cooperation between member states, by supporting and, if necessary, complementing their actions”. [35] This is an intervention by default however and the Commission itself deplored the weakness of the instruments available to it. A director in the DG for Employment and Social Affairs thus declared himself “personally sceptical as to the impact of what you call the exchange of good practice, the instruments of soft law, and even the methods of open coordination” (E47). The frankness in this interview is not surprising given that the Commission officially complained about the weakness of its prerogatives: “the catch-all nature [of the guidelines] and the lack of internal prioritisation limited the impact of this instrument on national policy-making”. [36] This summary by the Commission uses the criticisms that were formulated as early as 2004 in the Kok report – this latter condemning both the lack of political will by member states and the weakness of European instruments in the employment sector. [37] In order to “ensure that member states assume their responsibilities”, [38] the report recommended “ratchet[ing] up the political consequences of non-delivery”. [39] The Commission took these criticisms (E47 and E49) on board to demand the reinforcement of EES instruments:


“There is significant scope for mutual learning and sharing good practice.” [40]

16The distinction between “hard law” and “soft law” is typical: [41] the concept of “hard law” refers to the area of law applied and controlled by legal and police instruments of verification and sanction. [42] “Soft law”, as defined by Snyder, refers to “rules of conduct which in principle have no legally binding force but which nevertheless may have practical effects”. [43] Although we accept today that the OMC encouraged the circulation of elites and projects within Europe, [44] and that there was an exchange of ideas in certain Europeanised sectors, [45] it still often remains difficult to determine the effects of these exchanges on specific mechanisms. [46]

17Some researchers doubt that “soft” instruments of governance have had any effect at all. [47] The question posed here is thus an old one in European governance: are non-legal instruments an efficient way of reforming systems of public policy? [48] Situating my research within debates around “non-legislative modes of policy-making and modes of governance” [49] this article will compare the most recent developments in European governance with the reforms adopted in the member states, thus interrogating whether it is possible to provide proof that certain instruments have indeed played a role in directing, encouraging and catalysing [50] social policies in France, Spain and the Netherlands.

Whither social policy? The convergence of social welfare states in Europe

18Everything seems to suggest that Europe is not in a position to “pressurise” member states to oblige them to modify their employment policies; legal jurisdiction remains with the states and the limitations of European “soft law” have been condemned by the Commission itself. We will see, however, that the social sector has been significantly reformed in France, Spain and the Netherlands in the last decade, and that these changes do tend to reflect the approach of the EES.

The harmonisation of national welfare regimes

19My research adopts a “most different systems design” [51] approach and aims to understand convergences between historically different systems. I chose France, Spain and the Netherlands because they represent the most different cases in terms of the situation of the labour market, [52] welfare regimes, [53] and traditional administrative approaches to unemployment and poverty. [54] Access to basic unemployment benefits is not the responsibility of the same institutions in these three countries. In France, the state has been responsible for RMI (Revenu minimum d’insertion) [55] since its creation in 1988, with the administration and payment of benefits being decentralised to the conseils généraux [departmental authorities] in 2004. In Spain, the central state is not responsible for minimum welfare payments: over the 1990s the autonomous communities decided to finance social welfare systems. In the Netherlands minimum revenue has been financed by taxes since 1963, but the running of the scheme and its payments are the responsibility of local authorities. The amount of such payments is determined by the state in France and the Netherlands, and by the autonomous communities in Spain; funding is guaranteed by the autonomous communities in Spain and by the state in France and the Netherlands. [56]

20In the 2000s, however, the three countries fundamentally revised their policies for revenue support for the unemployed, and those out of the labour market. In the Netherlands the Work and Social Assistance Act (Wet Werk en Bijstand, WWB) has provided financial incentives to local authorities since 2004 to accelerate the return to work of individuals receiving benefit payments. The government has demanded that Dutch municipal councils take the necessary steps to reduce the number of people dependent on minimum revenue payments by 25% over four years. [57] The councils – such as that in Utrecht where I conducted my research – proposed “substitute jobs” to those currently out of the labour market. These jobs were low-paid (roughly half the Dutch minimum wage) but it was possible to combine them with social welfare payments. In the interviews, the fact that individuals did not lose their former benefits if they took up employment was seen as a “trigger” for the return to work (E26). The Ministry confirmed that making work more “attractive” (E21) meant that it had to “be financially worthwhile for those receiving benefits”. [58]

21In France, the RSA (Revenue de solidarité active) replaced the RMI in 2009. The main difference between these two forms of social welfare payments is the possibility of combining payments with income from work, with no limitations as to duration. If a beneficiary returns to work, he or she loses part of the benefit, but it decreases less rapidly than the salary increases. [59] This gradual decrease was implemented to make work “pay” more:


“The RSA will encourage people to return to work and provide unemployed people with a clearer idea of how their income will change if they return to work.” [60]

23A member of Martin Hirsch’s cabinet confirms this: “with the RSA, when you go back to work, you make money. That’s really it […] That’s what we really based things on – the financial benefit of returning to work” (E3). In ensuring that returning to work is financially advantageous for those receiving welfare payments, the High Commission hopes to stimulate “employment rate growth” in the French economy. [61]

24In Spain, welfare policies are the responsibility of the autonomous communities. Catalonia – one of the first autonomous communities to have created a framework for minimum revenue at the beginning of the 1990s – introduced its “Renta Mínima de Inserción” in 2006:


“It was considered necessary to introduce new complementary forms of economic assistance linked to getting a job in the hope of stimulating the efforts of those receiving the Renta Mínima de Inserción to find work.” [62]

26In Catalonia the theme of “encouragement to work” also led to the creation of a new scheme, “ayuda complementaria de inserción laboral”. Unlike the RSA in France, this benefit does not decrease gradually but is paid at a flat-rate over twelve months. The beneficiary of minimum revenue payments who returns to work can combine his or her salary with a fraction of the former benefit, with that benefit payment representing roughly one third of the Catalan Renta Mínima amount. [63]

27What do these reforms have in common? First, we should note the persistence of distinct public policy paths: numerical targets for those coming off benefits were set in the Netherlands, but not in France or Spain. The return to work bonus is paid at a flat-rate in Spain, but in France it gradually decreases, and in the Netherlands it is proportional to the number of hours worked. The decision to reform the scheme was made centrally in France – the Haut Commissariat aux solidarités actives [High Commission for Active Solidarity against Poverty] was especially created and appointed by the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister; [64] but was decentralised in Spain – the communities remain autonomous in the management of welfare. In the Netherlands the decision was shared – the reform of the WWB was decided on and piloted by the government, but choices about practical initiatives were made at the local level. Each system of public policy was thus reformed according to specific histories and institutional logics. [65] Yet, beyond these specificities, instruments of public policy and representations within social administrations have indeed tended to converge in Europe.

Instrumental harmonisation

28In the three reforms studied, the guiding instrument was neither legal obligation nor administrative orientation towards employment, but a bonus/penalty system. Although recipients of basic social benefits who return to work see their incomes improve (“such that work provides all with the guarantee of being released from and protected from poverty” [66]), those without work experience no such improvement and remain below the poverty line. [67] In all three cases, poverty is not addressed by an increase in social payments for the unemployed, nor by preferential access to housing or transport. On the contrary, the advantages associated with minimum revenue welfare payments must be less than those associated with working. The increasingly technical nature of the frameworks (micro-econometric calculations of the income-replacement rate, [68] of the “financial gains of returning to work” [69] and “marginal rates of pressure of work” [70]) does not hide the fact that these new instruments are “vehicles for values, which are fuelled by a particular interpretation of the social, and by specific conceptions of the proposed mode of regulation”. [71] The incentive instruments thus translate the same shift towards making the care of the poor an economic matter [72] – guiding them towards the market and integrating them into society through their participation in productive activity. [73] Even though systems of basic social welfare have inherited an approach that is more concerned with living conditions and the social objectives of being in work, [74] the reforms adopted tend to break with these traditions and move the three systems closer to a more “active” model of social protection. [75]

Cognitive harmonisation

29If the choice of an instrument is the technical expression of a vision of the social world and ways of acting upon it, then instrumental change can tell us something about cognitive change [76] in a sector of public policy. Arguments are increasingly similar: in 2007, in France, the Haut Commissariat aux solidarités actives condemned the fact that returning to work did not enable people “to increase their revenue”. [77] During an interview the manager of the “inserción laboral” programme in Catalonia confirmed that the gap between the revenue from benefit payments and the revenue from work is not wide enough:


“Because wages have not increased much and the minimum wage is what it is, well sometimes just the fact of working was not… motivating enough for someone benefiting from the Renta Mínima… to go to work.”

31For the head of the “Work” division at the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid, SZW), the problem with social welfare in the Netherlands is that “the benefit is too comfortable, too comfortable, comparing to the salary you can earn with the new job” (E18). For these politico-administrative managers, the small gap between revenue from social welfare and revenue from the labour market is a “disincentive to looking for work” (E44). For the person responsible for employment at the Social Services department in the town of Utrecht, the financial bonus is a “trigger, it’s a trigger for them” (E26). For the person in charge of “inserción laboral” at the Generalitat de Catalunya the solution would be to “encourage the beneficiaries so that they don’t get used to receiving the payment and so that they are more…inclined to get work” (E45). For the High Commissioner for Active Solidarity in France, “when a person has limited means, you cannot ask them to work for resources that do not increase”. [78] This common definition of “the problem” of basic social benefits is based on a utilitarian understanding of beneficiaries’ behaviour. According to this perspective, poor people make a rational calculation as to the costs and benefits of work compared to welfare. For the Catalonian manager “the relationship between the wage… between working and not working, depending on the money they were receiving, well, that’s it: it wasn’t encouraging that person to work” (E45). According to the person responsible for the “Work” division at the Dutch SZW ministry, “it’s a comparison people make. A calculation” (E18).

32This type of argument is based on the economic concept of “traps”. [79] Here is how the Dutch National Reform Programme (NRP) presents it:


“To make working – and working longer hours – more appealing, it has to pay off financially. However, the rewards are not always sufficient. Accepting work from a situation without any personal income (i.e. the re-entry trap) is sometimes less than appealing due to high marginal pressure. Precisely because this group has the financial leeway not to have to work – often involving partners of a breadwinner – it is important that the increase in income represent a sufficiently high incentive. High marginal pressure may also present obstacles to increasing the number of hours worked (i.e. the part-time trap). Among the unemployed, accepting work may appear to offer relatively few advantages in the shorter term compared to receiving benefits (i.e. the poverty trap).” [80]

34The Dutch NRP does not limit itself to oblique references to the theory of “traps”; it develops a neoclassical argument to explain how beneficiaries are kept in part-time work (“the part-time trap”), in long-lasting inactivity (“the re-entry trap”) and in poverty (“the poverty trap”). The neoclassical model of the labour market is explicitly appropriated via the “literature on incentives” (E2), and is continually evoked through:

  • a critique of the negative side effects of social welfare, which are accused of creating the phenomenon they are designed to combat: “passive” benefit payments leading to poverty;
  • a utilitarian conception of social behaviour: in a market system making the “choice” to work is seen to depend on the cost and benefits of the job, with each individual comparing the opportunities for work and leisure after having established their own subjective preference curve. [81]

35Even though the regimes protecting against the risks of unemployment or poverty were based on the socialisation of social risks and the exclusion of the guilt-inducing notion of “voluntary idleness”, [82] “active” social policies personalise the causes of unemployment and poverty. [83]

36This “activation” frame of reference may provoke reservations among academics and intellectuals, [84] but it does not seem to provoke political opposition or any structural ideological cleavages. In Catalonia, it was the socialist Minister of Employment Jordi Valls i Riera who drafted the decree on the active reform of 2006; [85] in the Netherlands it was a Christian-Democrat minister for social affairs, Aart Jan de Geus (CDA), who defended the 2004 welfare reform; in France, the government that developed and voted in the RSA was conservative, following on from a previous conservative government (UMP majority since 2002, renewed in 2007). The parliamentary debates did not show an increased cleavage on this issue. During the vote on the 2004 law on the WWB in Holland, the Dutch labour party (PvDA) was concerned about the funding of the system but did not oppose the “work above benefit” principle. [86] In Catalonia, the welfare reform of 2006 was not the object of a parliamentary vote because it was passed as a decree, but according to my interviews, this “consensual” reform did not provoke any major political opposition. [87] In France the socialist parliamentary group abstained from voting on the RSA, but did so for reasons of funding rather than because of the mechanism or principle, which they otherwise “approved” [88] of. One socialist MP declared: “The RSA could have had support from all sides of parliament – but on one condition, on one condition only: they would have had to make sure the funding was equitable” [89]. The RSA bill was finally passed with a majority of 306 votes for and only 20 votes against. [90]

The content of the EES: a “European doctrine”?

37If we define “cognitive convergence” as a “progression towards shared values, norms and conceptions of causality”, [91] then we might consider that this is indeed what is at work in terms of “active” proposals in Europe. However, convergence is not sufficient proof of Europeanisation. Perhaps political actors influence each other without the EU ever being either a resource or a constraint; perhaps a “downloading” process is at work here, but through the intermediary of international institutions distinct from the EU. [92] My bottom-up research approach has been as follows: as a result of observing a cognitive and instrumental convergence between three member states of the EU, I began by asking whether the direction adopted by national structures corresponded to a hypothetical “European doctrine” in this area. The final part of this article goes on to explore the practical mechanisms of Europeanisation.

38The homologous nature of European recommendations and national implementation is clear when we study the EES texts. From the first guidelines on employment in 1997, priority was given to “active” social measures rather than so-called “passive” policies. For example, to combat unemployment European states should adopt “tailor-made responses systematically giving precedence to active employability measures rather than passive support measures”. [93] The delimitation of these “active” measures remained vague in the first guidelines however, which made the original direction proposed by the EES ambiguous. [94] Gradually the economic tone of the EES became more influenced by the neoclassical approach. Few changes were made in the texts of 1999 and 2000, after which the notion of the “active welfare state” was enshrined in the guidelines for 2001. The first of the new “horizontal objectives” even explicitly mentioned “providing adequate incentives”. From this point on, each member state was encouraged to “reform its benefit and tax system to reduce poverty traps, and provide incentives for unemployed or inactive people to seek and take up work”. [95]

39Encouragement, promotion and incentives to work: over the course of the 2000s, these watchwords were repeated in every new European document. Unemployment thus appeared to be a problem linked to the insufficient “value” of work for those receiving benefits. The 2003 guidelines explain: “[T]he balance between income from work against income in unemployment or inactivity should be such as to encourage people to enter, re-enter and to remain in the labour market”. [96]

40The guidelines, which aim to use “financial incentives with a view to making work attractive”, are specifically focused on the argument of “poverty and inactivity traps”:


“Member States will reform financial incentives with a view to making work attractive […] Member States will in particular review replacement rates and benefit duration; ensure effective benefit management, notably with respect to the link with effective job search, including access to activation measures to support employability, taking into account individual situations; consider the provision of in-work benefits, where appropriate; and work with a view to eliminating inactivity traps. In particular, policies will aim at achieving by 2010 a significant reduction in high marginal effective tax rates.” [97]

42The concepts of “replacement rates”, “inactivity traps” and “marginal effective tax rates” are taken directly from the neoclassical theory of the labour market. [98] Whereas they were simply alluded to in the first guidelines, all stages in the OECD’s reasoning on “making work pay” are now formally inscribed in the European texts. This includes financial incentives, [99] a decrease in the “utility” of unemployment via reducing the level of benefits and restricting conditions for receiving them, [100] increasing the differential between income from work and welfare income, [101] and decreasing tax levels on low incomes. [102] From 2003 the guidelines were only revised every two or three years; they reproduced the incentive arguments and developed them still further. In 2003, numerical indicators supported the recommendations concerning the return to work of those receiving unemployment benefits. [103] In 2005 the concept of “traps” was enlarged to include “unemployment, poverty and inactivity traps”. [104] In 2008, precedence was given to the mobilisation of those “those most excluded from the labour market” as part of an “active inclusion” program. [105]

43The relative openness of the early versions of the EES [106] gave way to a more stringent political approach – “passive” policies were increasingly criticised in the European texts in favour of activation and of incentive measures. This conceptual re-organisation was linked to the establishment and progressive reinforcement of a doctrine specific to the DG for Employment at the beginning of the 2000s. [107] A communication from 2003 presents the model supported by the Commission: “"Making work pay" refers to policies [which aim] to reform tax and benefit systems with a view to providing appropriate financial incentives to take up jobs, to remain in work, to increase work effort […].” [108] The recommendations of the Commission are clear:


“There is therefore a need for tax/benefit policies to be re-designed in such a way as to reduce the risk of inactivity, unemployment and poverty traps. In other words, a high level of social protection is desirable as long as incentives to work are maintained.” [109]

45Pointing to the side effects of overly “generous” social welfare systems, the Commission also condemned the alleged behaviour of welfare recipients who apparently preferred to “choose to live on benefits rather than be employed”. [110] Challenging the so-called “passive” benefits is at the heart of this “comprehensive approach contributing to making work pay”. In its English version, the title of the 2003 Communication is highly evocative: “Modernising social protection for more and better jobs – a comprehensive approach contributing to making work pay”. The expression “making work pay” refers to an OECD report of the same name published in 1996 in which that organisation explained that “cutting benefits is the simplest way of increasing the incentive to work”. [111] In referring to the OECD [112] publications, and repeating the expression “making work pay” twenty-two times in the 2003 Communication, the European Commission makes the theoretical inspiration for its economic approach to the labour market very clear. Subsequent communications by the Commission on the subject of employment and social affairs confirm this doctrine. In 2007, the Communication on “active inclusion” declared:


“In order to make work pay for job seekers, it is also necessary to continue reviewing the incentives and disincentives resulting from tax and benefit systems, including the management and conditionality of benefits.” [113]

47The other Communication of 2007, on “flexicurity” developed these recommendations still further:


“Social security systems would offer incentives to low-skilled benefit recipients and monitor the conditionality of such benefits in order to ensure that taking up work pays, if necessary by providing supplementary benefits or gradual phasing out of benefits.” [114]

49The increasing specificity of the Commission’s guidelines and communications is the result of this process of trial and error, over the course of which the Commission had to invent and reinforce its doctrine in the employment sector. This analysis confirms qualitative studies on the reception of the EES in France. Interviews conducted at the beginning of the 2000s already suggested that a “European doctrine” [115] was gradually coalescing: “a ‘shared frame of reference is developing’, based on a few key themes – active policy against unemployment, decreasing contributions, investment in human resources, the ‘make work pay’ concept, and making use of all the human potential of the labour force”. [116] Another interview confirmed the Commission’s focus on a few themes in particular (“incentives to work, making work pay, decreasing contributions”). [117]

50The original tone of the EES reflected the historical context of the time in which it was written. The OECD had an active role in writing the EES, as a result of the circulation of its experts in Brussels technocratic circles in the 1990s. [118] The ambiguity of the first EES texts was also the result of the political equilibrium of the time, with “activation” initially being seen by national leaders as a “compromise” (E46, E47) between the Nordic model of massive investment in employment policy and the Anglo-Saxon model which makes the individual responsible for their unemployment. [119] The DG for Employment seized upon the concept of “activation” to construct its “modernised” model of social protection, supporting a specific synthesis of ideas and progressively reinforcing the content. [120] Such as it was subsequently understood by the Commission, the “active welfare state” [121] combines reinforced spending on incentives with stricter control over those receiving payments. [122] Over the course of the 2000s, the Commission drew more and more explicitly on algorithms, [123] promoted instruments of reform [124] and set objectives [125] which stemmed from the neoclassical theory of the labour market. How has this orientation had an impact on member states since then?

The instruments of Europeanisation: cumulative mechanisms for the transfer of public policies in the employment sector

51The reforms of national minimum welfare regimes in France, Spain and the Netherlands over the course of the 2000s applied these incentive instruments and made returning to work the goal of their new programmes. However, to note a correlation between these national developments and European policy directions is not to prove causality. Just because the EES has been encouraging member states for the last fifteen years to make social benefits “active”, [126] to limit unconditional income support policies [127] or to increase incentives for the unemployed, and to “make work pay” [128] does not mean that there is a causal link. The last section of this article will demonstrate how European institutions, established in 1997 and consolidated thereafter, have influenced member states in the twenty-first century. Indeed, we cannot understand the progressive convergence of European policy without taking into account the specific strategy of European authorities in this area – in particular how the DG for Employment has been able to mobilise cumulative (although non-binding) resources to influence member states. [129] Discussion of the content of Europeanisation converges in the end with discussion of its mechanisms: how has the EU been able to play a role in domestic reform in spite of the fact that its guidelines, communications and recommendations on “activation” had no legal status? EU action has been autonomous and effective as a result of the distinctive combination of instruments launched by the Commission. [130] Four complementary instruments have succeeded in influencing national reforms in this sector: the Europeanisation of actors, changing constraints and resources in internal political affairs, the organisation of horizontal transfers, and fiscal incentives.

Europeanising the actors

52Elite administrators within social policy sectors are socialised at the European level, [131] and consequently absorb and re-use shared arguments when they return to their national contexts. [132] On 24 September 2008, three Franco-Spanish leaders who played a significant role in these “active” reforms met in an OMC seminar in Brussels. The first, Alfonso Prieto, was the deputy director for studies on employment in the Spanish ministry of employment. He was an advisor to the ministers Celestino Corbacho and Valeriano Gomez on the active reforms of the Spanish labour market in autumn 2010 and spring 2011. The second, Jean-Denis Combrexelle, was the director general for employment at the French ministry of employment and advisor to the employment minister Xavier Bertrand during the creation of the RSA in 2009. [133] The third, Christian Charpy, was director of the French employment service and was a frequent participant in discussions with the office in charge of the RSA, in his capacity both as the head of Pôle Emploi [134] and as someone close to Martin Hirsch. [135] On 24 September 2008 the European Commission invited these three national leaders to discuss “national policies of flexicurity”. However, these meetings in Brussels are not as informal and open as the principle of the OMC and “peer review” might suggest. Organised and managed by the DG for Employment, the meeting on the 24 September opened with an introduction by the DG’s director of employment, Xavier Prats Monné, followed by the European Commissioner in person, Vladimír Špidla, to spell out the Commission’s line in terms of active labour market policy. There were then presentations of national examples, concluded by Xavier Prats Monné once again for the DG for Employment. Even within these seminars “amongst peers”, eminent members of the Commission were present, and met with the administrative elite piloting these social reforms at the national level. There were regular exchanges and meetings between the participants. The minister Aart Jan de Geus, asked Aart Bette, as the chief adviser to the Dutch department of work, to set out the parameters of the “WWB” reform, and Bette was also invited by the DG for Employment in 2005 to a seminar in Brussels entitled “Extending working life”. These ministerial leaders frequented European seminars, met at events organised by the Commission, and exchanged points of view with directors general and with the commissioner. As a result of being socialised in the European context, they adapted the principles of Brussels to their national contexts.

53Martin Hirsch, then High Commissioner for Active Solidarity against Poverty, was a “pivotal” actor who succeeded in translating the micro-economic models and the theory of “traps” discussed in Brussels into a language that was acceptable in the French national context. A senior figure in the Office of European Affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs described Hirsch’s relations with the European level thus:


“He was in demand, actually, at the European level. Firstly there were all the events that came through under the French presidency and the round table on ‘poverty and exclusion’ which under the French presidency was dedicated to active inclusion, the meeting of ministers on the fight against poverty and exclusion which was held for the first time in Marseille…. He went to inaugurate the opening ceremony for the European year of the fight against poverty and exclusion, and in fact there he talked about the RSA… […] And what’s more he was also regularly invited because, between the RSA and his personality, which was very… well, it meant that he managed to get the objective of reducing poverty adopted at the national level, and he was very supportive of that approach at the European level too, well, he was one of the Commission’s ‘favourite’ speakers and presenters.”

55What is interesting in this long extract is that a national actor made strategic use of European resources in pushing through domestic reform: [136] Hirsch used the European forums and arenas to promote and justify the RSA reform, both at the European and at the national level. During France’s Council presidency, he was the “pilot” of international events that he organised himself, but during which “he in fact talked about the RSA…”. The EU was used as a political argument (legitimising usage [137]) to make political and social actors accept the reform:


“When we prepare notes for the minister, or for our director, we always stress that it is a strategy that we used during the French presidency within an EU framework.”

57But Martin Hirsch did not only use the EU as a source of external pressure; he drew on it directly when devising the RSA. As early as the Green Paper on the RSA in 2007, Hirsch used the Commission’s arguments on the “trilemma of the welfare state” – in other words the need to “conceive of frameworks that reconcile incentives to return to work, reduction of poverty, and financial sustainability”. [138] This was an idea that had been formulated four years earlier by the European Commission in its communication on “making work pay”. [139] The links between Hirsch and the European level encompass both “downloading” (integrating European resources and requirements concerning “activation” in order to construct the “Revenu de solidarité active”), and “uploading”. Hirsch defended the “French approach” in Brussels and was involved in European decision-making. He was indeed “in demand” at the European Commission; a “favourite” speaker (E4), he set a European example, and was mobilised by the DG for Employment as an international spokesperson for a reform validated by the Commission. These links between the Haut Commissariat and the EU remained strong – the assistant director in Hirsch’s cabinet (E1) joined France’s permanent delegation to the EU in 2010. These are some of the reasons why Europeanisation cannot be considered as a one-way mechanism, but rather as a process of mutual interdependence and influence. National and European actors use and influence each other reciprocally to promote, justify and progress their own interests. [140] In the case of the French Haut Commissariat, their interest was in promoting this reform and improving its social and political acceptability in France, given that the revolving presidency of the EU Council coincided with the parliamentary debate on the RSA. For the Commission it was the opportunity to draw attention to an example of “good practice” and show that the national application of European recommendations (here making social policy “active”) did indeed work.

Changing constraints and resources in internal political affairs

58Although they are not binding, European recommendations can have an effect on domestic policies by modifying the resources and constraints that weigh on actors. One officer for international affairs at the Dutch ministry of social affairs regularly collaborated with the director general of the DG for Employment in Brussels. Although in the course of their discussions with me they agreed that the weakness of the OMC instruments was a shame, they also indicated, however, that the EES had been very effective during internal political debates in “unblocking” crises and getting the reforms passed:


“What is so interesting [about] the Employment Strategy is that, that locks in the national parliaments, because you can reach an agreement on reforms in your labour market policies. That locks… can be solved, because in the European arena, you get recommendations from the Commission on which path to follow in your labour market policy, and they are not in the forms of directives or strong… hum… powerful instruments, but no politicians at home, in the national arena, like to be told by Brussels what it should do […]. It’s always difficult to, to… exactly pinpoint what role was played by European recommendations. But we noticed that it was mentioned in the Parliament a number of times. We noticed that it increased the sense of urgency with policy makers, with the cabinet, to, to introduce their reforms.”

60In the Netherlands, the parliamentarians whose projects for reform and amendment followed the direction outlined by the Commission benefited from extra resources during political debates. The dramatisation of European warnings and recommendations gave an impression of urgency and had an accelerating effect on domestic reform. [141] The Catalan case is not comparable in this respect because the reform of the Renta Mínima de Inserción was passed by decree. In France, however, the RSA was the object of a parliamentary discussion and the European stakes were indeed mobilised during these exchanges. During the vote on 8 October 2008 in the National Assembly, the MP Bruno Le Maire suggested that the creation of the RSA was a “necessity” that was part of a framework of “tough and determined action coordinated with all our European partners”. [142] Hirsch adopted this argument to repel an unfavourable amendment to his proposal, telling the MPs that they ran “the risk of contradicting our European engagements”. [143] Before voting on the bill, the French parliamentarians all received a letter from the minister outlining the “reasons to vote for the RSA” and which drew on European arguments:


“The RSA is part of a programmme for inclusive action, which is at the heart of EU thinking, and which will be debated under the French presidency.” [144]

62Hirsch thus situated the RSA within the European strategy for inclusive action, which was a project supported by all of France’s European partners, and by the French presidency of the EU. One parliamentarian suggests that this implicit argument (“a vote against the RSA is a vote against Europe”) exerted its authority over MPs:


“The RSA, I felt that it was, both at the Parliament and… it was awkward for everyone, it was awkward for everyone. Both on the left and the right.”

64Indeed, when it came to the final vote on the RSA, only members from the communist and republican groups dared to vote against it. [145] “We can’t say no to the RSA” said a member from another opposition party (E9). European stakes were thus a lever for social reform – in France and in other member states [146] – by lending extra resources in national debates to actors responsible for getting these changes accepted.

Organising horizontal transfers

65How are transfers of public policies actually organised in the European context? The theoretical framework of policy transfer studies[147] has been criticised for apparently not sufficiently taking into account the asymmetries and power relations between actors. [148] However, David Dolowitz and David Marsh stress that they envisage the possibility of compulsory transfers: [149] receiving actors can be encouraged to transfer by the institutions behind the models or by external bodies. [150] In this article, the Spanish case suggests just how much the European Commission promoted particular models and encouraged transfers between regions. Here is how an official in the Catalan welfare system described a study trip to France:


“– We had a meeting. Because in France what they have done is to decentralise minimum welfare benefits too. So when they decentralised, they called us from Eastern Catalonia [Pyrénées-Atlantiques] so that we could have a day together, and talk about this. […] And from there, we had several meetings to, let’s say, exchange on these questions. And that’s when we talked about these complémentos. […] This idea, comes from there.
– This idea?
– Yes, this idea of the supplement for returning to work.”

67Of course the ideal transfer occurred region to region (“this idea came from there”), but the EU was an unavoidable intermediary in transfers because it encouraged, supported and financed the exchanges within the framework of European cooperation programmes. The series of meetings that resulted were part of the EU Interreg III program, the agenda for which (“implement common instruments on employment issues”) was established by the European Commission. [151]

68In France the idea of the RSA was also influenced by European transfers – as a member of Martin Hirsch’s cabinet explained:


“We had a study trip to England. So we all went to see how it worked there, both their ANPE, which at that time anyway was called ‘Job Centre’ […] and their tax mechanisms, the Working Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. So well, it’s always the same idea, it’s the idea of decreasing benefits with a form of cap like the RSA Activité. When you don’t work you have nothing. When you start working you earn and earn until you reach a maximum, and then, if you keep working it starts decreasing. But it decreases progressively. And so yes, yes, we were very inspired by the British model.”

70It is rare that a minister acknowledges that a reform wasn’t invented from scratch but that it drew on external examples, which is what makes Martin Hirsch’s public statement particularly valuable:


“We were, I am not ashamed to admit it, inspired by the ‘working family tax credit’.” [152]

72The other members of the Haut Commissariat confirmed this when I met them: “the RSA was a type of intervention that existed in other European countries, and which aimed to have an impact on labour supply” (E1); “we looked at programs that were ‘similar’ in inverted commas, such as the Working Families Tax Credit” (E2). In the Netherlands, the WWB was inspired by these same British experiments in terms of work bonuses, as the officer for European Affairs at the Dutch Ministry for Employment indicated:


“It’s true to say that our incentive policies were inspired mainly by English experiences.”

74Are these demonstrated borrowings between countries sufficient for us to talk of “Europeanisation”? In other social service sectors, such as health cover, exchanges between states were organised at the end of the 1990s, but without EU involvement in the process. [153] Here, the two levels of transfer are intertwined – the Commission encourages transfers both of “good practice” and of the national examples it targets. It is also worth noting that the two models cited by the French and Dutch officials – the Working Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit – are precisely the two reforms that the European Commission has used in its publications since 2000 as examples of effective “incentive” reforms. In 2003 the Commission’s communication on “making work pay” explicitly focused on these “good practices”:


“The UK introduced two means tested schemes, the ‘Child Tax Credit’ and the ‘Working Tax Credit’ (WTC) to replace previous tax credits. They have the twin stated aims of helping to eliminate child poverty and to make work pay.” [154]

76As early as 2000, the Commission had invited European partners to come to London to observe the effectiveness of these systems in terms of the incentive to return to work. [155] In bringing about cooperation and discussion on these targeted themes, the EU acted as a vector for the transfer of public policy. The exchanges between member states on the “activation” of social protection were encouraged and financed by European institutions.

Providing financial incentives

77Although the EU has no legal jurisdiction in the social sector, it does have a tool for directing budgets:


“The European Social Fund is the main financial instrument in the European Employment Strategy.” [156]

79In France the ESF supported the RSA trials by financing “many supporting programmes set up at local level. At the time the RSA was developed [local authorities] were asking for money in addition to the ESF” (E2). Once the law was definitively passed, the RSA continued to be supported by the EU. In 2009, 39% of ESF spending on France was monopolised by initiatives for inclusion in the labour market, [157] mainly measures for “supporting the most vulnerable persons, implemented via the RSA” (E2). In the Netherlands too, programs aiming to accelerate the return to work were financed by the ESF when the WWB was launched in 2004. [158] What does this support represent in terms of local budgets? The Netherlands is one of the countries in Europe where ESF investment is the lowest; the ESF encouraged the “activation” of the Dutch welfare regime [159] but it only acted as an additional lever and not a primary source of funding. [160] In France, welfare cost 6.3 billion euros in 2007 [161] and the funding of the ESF was then 700 million per year – 11% of the total budget. It was in Spain above all that the ESF funding was the most decisive. Between 2007 and 2013, Spain was to receive 8 billion euros from the ESF – of which 285 million euros were allocated to Catalonia. In terms of the total budget devoted to active labour market policies in Catalonia, the ESF funding appears fundamental for local authorities:


“The European budget provides 25% of spending on active labour market policies in Catalonia”.

81When one quarter of “active” social expenditure is financially dependent on the ESF, it is logical that local politico-administrative officers are very attentive to the requirements of the Fund and apply its guidelines carefully. One interviewee in the Catalan government declared that, “it is clear that the active labour market policies in Catalonia stem from the European Strategy” (E41). When I asked if it would be possible for the autonomous community to decide not to apply the principles of the EES, reactions ranged from outraged denial to simple incomprehension of the question. [163] For the officers in the department of labour at the Generalitat, it seemed incongruous to want to distance oneself from European recommendations. [164] The ESF, after all, does not finance any type of social reform: all the Fund’s interventions must be linked to the labour market. [165] It is the European Commission which administers the ESF, determines its “strategic direction” and establishes its “axes of intervention”. [166] In keeping with Article 4 of the ESF regulations, member states should ensure that “actions set out in their operational programmes are consistent with, and respond to, the challenges identified in their national reform programmes, as well as, where relevant, in their other national strategies that aim to fight unemployment, poverty and social exclusion, and also in the relevant Council recommendations adopted in accordance with Article 148(4) TFEU, in order to contribute to achieving the headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy on employment, education and poverty reduction”. [167] On the five axes of intervention of the ESF in Catalonia [168] the axis dedicated to “employability” alone attracts 50% of the European subsidies. [169] On the other hand, initiatives that do not conform to the strategic direction of the Commission are not fundable. Those responsible for the ESF programs in the Catalan community have stressed that an “unconditional measure of financial support for unemployed people” could not be supported by the ESF. [170] In only promoting “active” labour market measures, the ESF encourages local officials to accelerate the activation of their social protection regimes, to encourage programmes that are conditional and directed towards the labour market (improvement of “employability” and “adaptability”, incentives to return to work and to self-employment), rather than unconditional revenue support programs. As the head of the ESF unit at the DG for Employment and Social Affairs at the European Commission confirmed:


“Let’s say that we don’t do social policy. In other words, I don’t know… the point is not to put people in social housing, or give them food rations. But by training initiatives, leading to a job. […] In all that the Social Fund does, the objective is to find, to lead to work. We act within the framework of the labour market.”

83* * *

84Evidently, member states retain their jurisdiction in social matters and the distribution of roles remains strictly limited by successive treaties. Evidently, member states continue to experiment with differentiated social and employment policies, a legacy of their specific welfare state regimes, administrative traditions, and socio-political negotiations. Nonetheless, it is noticeable that the policy instruments for revenue support, as well as the causal conceptions and preferred solutions for combating unemployment and poverty have tended to converge in France, Spain and the Netherlands since the beginning of the twenty-first century. In the three reforms studied here, people in poverty are increasingly considered as utilitarian actors whose choice to return to work, or not, depends on the comparative benefit of each option. The aim of the RSA in France, the Ayuda Complementaria de Inserción Laboral in Catalonia, and the Work First programs in the Netherlands is increasingly to incentivise those receiving welfare payments, in the hope that by increasing the financial gap between benefits without work and revenues from work, they will hasten claimants’ return to work. These reforms are hybrid entities borne of specific socio-political systems and logics on the one hand, and comparable “activation” programs which aim to to “make work pay” on the other. The concept of “convergence” takes into account the diversity of points of departure and situations at a point in time (t), whilst observing a direction, or shift, towards instruments, objectives, procedures and cognitive conceptions that are merging within Europe.

85Once we accept this twofold observation of a lack of EU jurisdiction and the instrumental and cognitive convergence between European countries, the question remains of what is responsible for this change. If these three states have made comparable and synchronised reforms to their public policy systems, perhaps the reason for this can be found in horizontal transfers, without the EU being involved in the process at all? Without rejecting an explanation of this change as a result of infra-European (domestic logic) and supra-European (supranational pressure, shared economic challenges) variables, my research reveals clear elements that indicate the specific impact of the European variable on these social reforms. We have seen that the guidelines and recommendations of the Commission proposed a coherent and structured strategy around objectives, instruments and algorithms inspired by the neoclassical theory of the labour market. These cognitive schema and public policy solutions have spread throughout national Europeanised elites, who use them to argue for and justify these “active” reforms at the domestic level. Europeanisation has been an interactive process that has assumed four main dimensions in the cases we have studied: the European socialisation of national actors, the changing constraints and resources in internal political affairs, the organisation of horizontal transfers by the Commission, and financial incentives. Although they are not formally binding, these flexible instruments of European governance have cumulative effects on social reforms. For example in Catalonia we have seen that it was the conjunction of European interregional exchange programs, the assimilation of European vocabulary and theory on “active policies”, the conditionality of ESF funding, and local budgetary issues that led to the decision by the Department of Employment of the Generalitat to “activate” the Renta Mínima de Inserción.

86European initiatives have an impact on local public policy – through the diffusion of norms, cognitive schema, and public policy solutions as well as through providing direction and financial incentives. When studied and theorised as an interactive process, Europeanisation informs us as to the nature of political power today and the ways it attempts to influence behaviour, through conditionality and incentives as well as via legal or police constraint. [171] For this reason we believe that the concept of “Europeanisation” remains useful in working towards the normalisation [172] of Europe as an object of study, both top-down and bottom-up.

87Top-down, would mean analysing what “Europeanisation” teaches us about contemporary forms of governmentality, beyond the European context. Bottom-up would mean analysing public policy, actors and the meaning of reforms at the national level, before analysing causalities and re-introducing – among other potential explanatory factors – the European hypothesis.


Interview references quoted in the article


  • E1: Male, Martin Hirsch’s cabinet, Paris, 14 October 2010.
  • E2: Male, Martin Hirsch’s cabinet, Paris, 15 October 2010.
  • E3: Male, Martin Hirsch’s cabinet, Paris, 28 September 2011.
  • E4: Female, Office of European and International Affairs, Directorate General of Social Cohesion, Paris, 1 June 2010.
  • E9: Male, Senator, French Senate Commission for Social Affair, Paris, 26 March 2010.
  • E18: Female, “Work” Division, Dutch Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, The Hague, 10 December 2010.
  • E20: Male, Office of International Affairs, Dutch Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, The Hague, 8 December 2010.
  • E21: Female, Office of Welfare Reform, Dutch Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, The Hague, 13 February 2012.
  • E26: Male, Employment Officer at local social services branch, municipality of Utrecht, Utrecht, 3 December 2010.
  • E38: Female, Office of Employment Development, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, 22 March 2011.
  • E40: Female, Office of ESF Project Management, Department of Employment, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, 24 March 2011.
  • E41: Female, Employment Services Directorate, Department of Employment, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25 March 2011.
  • E42: Female, Office of Coordination of European Projects in Catalonia, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25 March 2011.
  • E43: Female, Information and Statistics Services, Department of Economics, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25 March 2011.
  • E44: Female, Cabinet member for the Minister for Social Affairs in Catalonia, Barcelona, 24 March 2011.
  • E45: Female, Office of Insertion Services, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, 23 March 2011.
  • E47: Male, DG for Employment and Social Affairs Directorate, European Commission, Brussels, 13 December 2011.
  • E49: Male, “Social Protection” Unit, DG for Employment and Social Affairs, European Commission, Brussels, 13 December 2011.
  • E70: Male, “ESF” Unit, DG for Employment and Social Affairs, European Commission, Brussels, 16 February 2012.


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    Sandra Kröger, “The effectiveness of soft governance in the field of European anti-poverty policy: operationalisation and empirical evidence”, Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 11(2), 2009, 197-211; Jean-Claude Barbier, “Workfare, ‘flexicurité’, réflexions sur le voyage international des idées politiques dans les politiques sociales et la persistance des compromis nationaux insérés dans les cultures politiques nationales”, paper at the 10th National Congress of the French Association of Political Science, Grenoble, 7-9 September 2009.Online
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    Jonathan Zeitlin, “The Open Method of Coordination and reform of national social and employment policies: influences and mechanisms” in Martin Heidenriech, Jonathan Zeitlin (eds), Changing European Employment and Welfare Regimes. The Influence of the Open Method of Coordination on National Reforms (London: Routledge, 2009).
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    Paolo Graziano, “The European employment strategy and national welfare states: Italy and France compared”, Les Cahiers européens de Sciences Po, 2, 2008.
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    Adopting non-binding recommendations, financial support for local initiatives, legal incursions via complementary sectors etc. On European intervention in the employment sector via workplace health policies, see Elias Mossialos (ed.), Health Systems Governance in Europe. The Role of European Union Law and Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
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    European Commission, document evaluating the Lisbon strategy, Brussels, 2 February 2010.
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    Pierre Muller, “L’analyse cognitive des politiques publiques: vers une sociologie politique de l’action publique”, Revue française de science politique, 50(2), 2000, 189-208.Online
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    A list of the interviews quoted in the text can be found at the end of the article.
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    Mehdi Arrignon, “Inciter au travail. La convergence des instruments, cadres cognitifs et objectifs des réformes sociales ‘actives’ dans le contexte de la SEE (Espagne, France, Pays-Bas)”, doctoral thesis in political science, under the supervision of Sabine Saurugger, Grenoble, Sciences Po Grenoble, 12 December 2012.
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    Howard Becker, Les Ficelles du métier (Paris: La Découverte, 2002) [in English, Tricks of the Trade (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)]; Laurence Bardin, L’analyse de contenu (Paris: PUF, 2007); Gilles Pinson, Valérie Sala Pala, “Peut-on vraiment se passer de l’entretien en sociologie de l’action publique?”, Revue française de science politique, 57(5), 2007, 555-97. Online
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    Which Claudio Radaelli laments. See “Européanisation”, in Laurie Boussaguet, Sophie Jacquot, Pauline Ravinet (eds), Dictionnaire des politiques publiques (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po. 2010), 191-200; as does Jonathan Zeitlin, “The Open Method of Coordination”, 215.
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    James Caporaso, Maria Green Cowles, Thomas Risse (eds), Transforming Europe. Europeanisation and Domestic Change (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000).
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    In telecommunications or health for example: Mark Thatcher, The Politics of Telecommunications. National Institutions, Convergence and Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Scott Greer, “The weakness of strong policies and the strength of weak policies: law, experimentalist governance, and supporting coalitions in European Union health care policy”, Regulation & Governance, 5, 2011, 187-203.Online
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    Bruno Palier, Yves Surel (eds) L’Europe en action (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007).
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    Christopher Hood, “The risk blame and the blame game”, Government & Opposition, 37, 2002, 15-73.
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    Renaud Dehousse (ed.), L’Europe sans Bruxelles? Une analyse de la méthode ouverte de coordination (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004).
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    Claudio Radaelli, “The domestic impact of European Union public policy: notes on concepts, methods and the challenge of empirical research”, Politique européenne, 5, 2001, 107-42.
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    Claudio Radaelli, “The Europeanisation of public policy”, in Kevin Featherstone, Claudio Radaelli, The Politics of Europeanisation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 27-56.
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    First policy-making at the European level, then incorporation at the domestic level.
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    Sophie Jacquot, Cornelia Woll, Les usages de l’Europe. Acteurs et transformations européennes (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004).
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    Rosa Sanchez Salgado, Cornelia Woll, “L’européanisation et les acteurs non étatiques”, in Bruno Palier, Yves Surel (eds) L’Europe en action, 145-91. All translations of cited works in this article are by the article translator, unless an English-language version is given in the footnotes.
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    Claudio Radaelli, “Européanisation”, 193.
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    Bruno Palier, Yves Surel (eds), L’Europe en action, 39.
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    Gonzalo Escribano, “Europeanisation without Europe? The Mediterranean and the neighbourhood policy”, EUI Working Paper, 19, 2006.
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    Mathieu Roussellin, “But why would they do that? European external governance and domestic preferences of rule importers”, Journal of Contemporary European Research, 8(4), 2012, 470-89.
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    Recent publications on Europeanisation show a shift in the objects of study – the current areas of research reflect less enforced legal changes than national actors’ ability to resist them. See Sabine Saurugger (ed.), “L’intégration européenne, instruments d’opposition, de contournement, d’adaptation”, Quaderni, 80, 2013. They also reflect local reutilisation of European resources; see Paolo Graziano, Sophie Jacquot, Bruno Palier (eds), The EU and the Domestic Politics of Welfare State Reforms (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).Online
  • [28]
    Patrick Hassenteufel, Yves Surel, “Des politiques publics comme les autres?”, Politique Européenne, 1, 2000, 8-24.
  • [29]
    Theofanis Exadaktylos, Claudio Radaelli (eds), Research Design in European Studies, Establishing Causality in Europeanisation (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).Online
  • [30]
    Jean-Claude Barbier, “Peut-on parler d’‘activation’ de la protection sociale en Europe?”, Revue française de sociologie, 43(2), 2002, 207-332; Martin Lodge “Comparing non-hierarchical governance in action”; Anne-Marie Guillemard (ed.), Où va la protection sociale? (Paris: PUF, 2008); Sandra Kröger, “The effectiveness of soft governance…”.
  • [31]
    “Work’ is indirectly mentioned via the section on protocols: “confirming their attachment to fundamental social rights such as they are defined in the European Social Charter, signed in Turin, the 18 October 1961, and in the European Charter on the Fundamental Rights of Workers in 1989”.
  • [32]
    Article 126-2.
  • [33]
    Article 128-4
  • [34]
    The Treaty of Nice hardly modifies the situation regarding employment policies. It emphasises once again (Article 157) the primacy of the states, ensuring that although the Council “may decide on specific measures in support of action taken in the Member States to achieve the objectives”, this does not “provide a basis for the introduction by the Community of any measure which could lead to a distortion of competition or contains tax provisions or provisions relating to the rights and interests of employed persons”. One of the new features of the Treaty of Nice lies in the formal possibility that the “protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated”, the “representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers” as well as the “conditions of employment for third-country nationals” should be subject to qualified majority voting. But for this to occur the Council would have to take a unanimous decision – acting on a proposal from the Commission and after consultation with the European Parliament – which would leave the right of veto open to each state. Identical provisions were written into the title “Employment” in the Lisbon Treaty (Title VIII).
  • [35]
    Article 127-1.
  • [36]
    European Commission, document evaluating the Lisbon strategy, 7.
  • [37]
    Report by the High Level Group chaired by Wim Kok, “Facing the challenge: the Lisbon strategy for growth and employment”, November 2004.
  • [38]
    Wim Kok, “Facing the challenge…”, 8.
  • [39]
    Wim Kok, “Facing the challenge…”, 44.
  • [40]
    European Commission, document evaluating the Lisbon strategy, 7.Online
  • [41]
    David M. Trubek, Louise G. Trubek, “Hard and soft law in the construction of social Europe: the Open Method of Coordination”, European Law Journal, 11(3), 2005, 343-64; Kenneth Abbott, Robert Keohane, Andrew Moravcsik, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Duncan Snidal, “The concept of legalization”, International Organization, 54(3), 2000, 401-19; David M. Trubek, M. Patrick Cottrell, Mark Nance,” ‘Soft law’, ‘hard law’, and European integration: toward a theory of hybridity”, University of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper, 1002, November 2005.Online
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    Kenneth Abbott, Duncan Snidal, “Hard and soft law in international governance”, International Organization, 54(3), 2000, 421-56.
  • [43]
    Francis Snyder, “Soft law and institutional practice in the European Community”, in Stephen Martin (ed.), The Construction of Europe. Essays in Honour of Emile Noël (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1993), 197-225.
  • [44]
    Jonathan Zeitlin, “The Open Method of Coordination…”; James Mosher, David Trubek, “Alternative approaches to governance in the EU. EU social policy and the European Employment Strategy”, Journal of Common Market Studies, 41(1), 2003, 63-88; Janine Goetschy, “L’apport de la méthode ouverte de coordination à l’intégration européenne”, in Paul Magnette (ed.), La Grande Europe (Brussels: Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2004), 141-67.
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    These exchanges are attested in other areas of public policy such as the health care sector: Scott Greer, “The weakness of strong policies and the strength of weak policies…”, Elias Mossialos (ed.), Health Systems Governance in Europe. The Role of European Union Law and Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Henri Bergeron, “La force d’une institution faible. Le cas d’une agence européenne d’information”, Politique européenne, 32, 2010, 39-76.
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    In the collective book edited by Renaud Dehousse, the chapter by Matthew Browne on employment finishes on this same question: given that OMC instruments are weak, how can we precisely determine their role in reform processes? See Matthew Browne, “La stratégie européenne pour l’emploi; nouveau modèle ou faux semblant”, in Renaud Dehousse (ed.), L’Europe sans Bruxelles?…, 57-74. Confronting the same problem of evaluating the precise effects of cognitive harmonisation, Bruno Palier predicted at the beginning of the twentyfirst century that the OMC would encourage the elaboration and exchange of shared norms of action in Europe, but that the public solutions and national institutions would continue to diverge – mainly because of the distinct historical legacies and weak legal pressure of the OMC. See Bruno Palier, “Does Europe matter? Européanisation et réforme des politiques sociales des pays de l’Union européenne”, Politique européenne, 1(2), 2001, 7-28.
  • [47]
    Martin Lodge, “Comparing non-hierarchical governance in action”, Journal of Common Market Studies, 45(2), 2007, 343-65; Bernard Casey, Michael Gold, “Peer review of labour market programmes…”; Jean-Claude Barbier, “Workfare, ‘flexicurité’…”.
  • [48]
    Renaud Dehousse (ed.), The “Community Method”: Obstinate or Obsolete? (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001). Many studies have approached the question of European governance in the social sector, whilst underlining the difficulty in providing proof of European effects on national reforms. Regarding these shared methodological obstacles, see in particular, Caroline de la Porte, Philippe Pochet, “The European Employment Strategy. Existing research and remaining questions”, Journal of European Social Policy, 14(1), 2004, 71-9; Jon Kvist, Juho Saari, The Europeanisation of Social Protection (Bristol: Policy Press, 2007); Milena Büchs, New Governance in European Social Policy. The Open Method of Coordination (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Martin Heidenreich, “The Open Method of Coordination. A pathway to the gradual transformation of national employment and welfare regimes?” in Martin Heidenriech, Jonathan Zeitlin (eds) Changing European Employment…, 25-51.; Kenneth Armstrong, “The Europeanisation of social exclusion: British adaptation to EU co-ordination”, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 8(1), 2006, 79-100; Sandra Kröger, “When learning hits politics or: social policy coordination left to the administrations and the NGOs?”, European Integration Online Papers, 10(3), 2006; Caroline de la Porte, Philippe Pochet, “Why and how (still) study the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) ?”, Journal of European Social Policy, 22(3), 2012, 336-49.
  • [49]
    Adrienne Héritier, “New modes of governance in Europe: policy-making without legislating?”, IHS Political Science Series, 81, 2002, 1-24.
  • [50]
    Renaud Dehousse, “La méthode ouverte de coordination. Quand l’instrument tient lieu de politique”, in Pierre Lascoumes, Patrick Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2004), 331-56.
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    Brainard Guy Peters, Comparative Politics, Theory and Method (New York: New York University Press, 1998).
  • [52]
    At the beginning of this comparison, in December 2009, the Netherlands had the lowest unemployment rate in Europe (4%), Spain had the highest (19.5%) and France had an unemployment rate at the European average (10%). Source: Eurostat.
  • [53]
    Gøsta Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990); Christine Erhel, Bruno Pallier, “L’Europe sociale: entre modèles nationaux et coordination européenne”, presentation at the meeting of the French Association for Political Science, March 2005.
  • [54]
    Serge Paugam, Les formes élémentaires de la pauvreté (Paris: PUF, 2005); Duncan Gallie, Serge Paugam (eds), Welfare Regimes and the Experience of Unemployment in Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
  • [55]
    State benefit (paid to the over-25s) as a top-up to other income in order to guarantee a monthly minimum income.
  • [56]
    Although budget accountability has de facto led to the co-financing of welfare benefits by territorial authorities in France and in the Netherlands since 2004. See Mehdi Arrignon, “La managérialisation de l’État social: une perspective comparée (France, Pays-Bas, Espagne)”, presentation at the 11th National Congress of the French Association for Science, Strasbourg: 31 August-2 September 2011.
  • [57]
    The number of people receiving payments was 302,000 in 2008 and was to be reduced to 227,000 by 2011: PESmonitor, Country Report, The Netherlands, UWV, Werkbedrijf, 2009.
  • [58]
    “To make working – and working longer hours – more appealing, it has to pay off financially” in Netherlands, “National Reform Programme for the Netherlands 2008-2010, in the context of the Lisbon Strategy”, 2008, 58.
  • [59]
    On the methods of calculating the RSA, see Mehdi Arrignon, “Opportunités des crises pour les réformes sociales: le cas du RSA”, in Jean-Claude Barbier, Maryse Bresson, Béatrice Muller (eds), Solidarités: l’épreuve des crises (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2012), 153-70.
  • [60]
    Haut-commissaire aux solidarités actives contre la pauvreté [French High-Commissioner for Active Solidarities Against Poverty], “Livre Vert. Vers un Revenu de solidarité active”, 2008, 14.
  • [61]
    “Livre Vert. Vers un Revenu de solidarité active”, 24.
  • [62]
    Diario Oficial de la Generalidad de Cataluña, Decreto 408/2006, 24 October 2006.
  • [63]
    The amount of the ayuda complementaria de inserción laboral was set at 144 € in 2009 – the Renta Mínima de Inserción was 410 € in 2009 for a single person. Source: Journal officiel de la generalidad de Cataluña, RESOLUCIÓN PRE/319/2009, 9 January 2009.
  • [64]
    President of the Republic and Prime Minister, “Lettre de Mission au haut-commissaire aux solidaritiés actives cité” quoted in the “Livre Vert…”, 10.
  • [65]
    For a longer presentation of these three systems and their parameters, see Mehdi Arrignon, “L’‘activation’ n’est-elle qu’un mot? Un bilan des stratégies d’activation et de leurs effets ambivalents sur la protection sociale en France, en Espagne et aux Pays-Bas (1997-2013)”, presentation at the 5th Congress of the French Association of Sociology, Nantes, 4 September 2013.
  • [66]
    President of the Republic and Prime Minister, “Lettre de mission au haut-commissaire aux solidarités actives”.
  • [67]
    OECD, “Benefits and wages indicators”, (23 June 2012).
  • [68]
    Denis Anne, Yannick L’Horty, “Les effets du revenu de solidarité active (RSA) sur les gains du retour à l’emploi”, Revue économique, 60(3), 2009, 767-76.
  • [69]
    Yannick L’Horty, Jean-François Ouvrard, “Comment améliorer les gains du retour à l’emploi?”, Revue économique, 57(3), 2006, 461-71.
  • [70]
    The Netherlands, “National Reform Programme for the Netherlands, 2008-2010…”, 58.
  • [71]
    Pierre Lascoumes, Patrick Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments, 13.
  • [72]
    Hélène Zajdela, “Comment et pourquoi activer les inactifs?”, Travail et Emploi, 118, 2009, 69-76.
  • [73]
    Mehdi Arrignon, “Les allocataires du Revenu de solidarité active”.
  • [74]
    Sylvie Morel, “Workfare and insertion: how the US and French models of social assistance have been transformed”, in Neil Gilbert, Antoine Parent (eds), Welfare Reform. A Comparative Assessment of the French and US Experiences (New Brunswick/London: Transaction Publishers, 2004, 93-142); Jean-Claude Barbier, “‘L’activation’ de la protection sociale: existe-t-il un modèle français?”, in Anne-Marie Guillemard (ed.), Où va la protection sociale? (Paris: PUF, 2008), 165-82. Online
  • [75]
    This was the interpretation proposed by Amparo Serrano Pascual at the beginning of the 2000s, but at that point it was not shared by all contributors to the book he edited. See Amparo Serrano Pascual, “Conclusion: towards convergence of the European activation policies?” in Amparo Serrano Pascual (ed.), Are Activation Policies Converging in Europe? (Brussels: ETUI, 2004), 497-518. See in particular the presentation of the debate on page 498.
  • [76]
    Pierre Muller, “Esquisse d’une théorie du changement dans l’action publique”, Revue française de science politique, 55(1), 2005, 155-87.
  • [77]
    “Livre vert…”, 3.
  • [78]
    “Livre vert…”, 5.
  • [79]
    For a critical presentation of the economic theory of “traps”, see Hélène Zajdela, “Faut-il avoir peur des trappes à chômage?”, Revue du MAUSS, 18, 2001, 94-104.
  • [80]
    The Netherlands, “National Reform Programme for the Netherlands 2008-2010…”.
  • [81]
    For a classic presentation of the behaviour of workers in the labour market see Campbell McConnell, Stanley Brue, David MacPherson, Contemporary Labor Economics (Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2008).
  • [82]
    Christian Topalov, Naissance du chômeur (Paris: Albin Michel, 1994).
  • [83]
    Christian Arnsperger, “L’État social actif comme nouveau paradigme de la justice sociale”, in Pascal Vielle, Philippe Pochet, Isabelle Cassiers (eds), L’État social actif. Vers un changement de paradigme? (Brussels: PIEPeter Lang, 2005), 63-92.
  • [84]
    See for example the debate provoked by the RSA proposal in the journals Esprit and La vie des idées; Jacques Rigaudiat, “Le revenu social d’activité: une réforme en faux-semblants”, Esprit, January 2009, 110-24; Dominique Méda, “Le Revenu de solidarité active en question”, La vie des idées (online), 24 April 2008 (10 February 2013); Nicolas Duvoux, “Le RSA et les défis de la solidarité”, La vie des idées, 1 June 2009 (10 February 2013).
  • [85]
    Diario Oficial de la Generalidad de Cataluña, Decreto 408/2006, de 24 de octubre, que modifica el Decreto 339/2006, de 5 de septiembre, de desarrollo de la Ley 10/1997, de 3 de julio.
  • [86]
    SZW – Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, “The Work and Social Assistance Act (WWB) in a nutshell, from social assistance to work in the Netherlands”, 2008, 7.
  • [87]
    Interview E44.
  • [88]
    “Le RSA voté en première lecture à l’Assemblée”, Le Monde, 27 November 2008.
  • [89]
    French National Assembly, sitting of Tuesday 25 November 2008, full text of debates available at:
  • [90]
    Vote of 8 October 2008 on the “Projet de loi généralisant le revenu de solidarité active” (passed in the Assembly during the first reading).
  • [91]
    Sophie Enos-Attali, Alexandra Jönsson, Elizabeth Sheppard, “Phénomènes de convergence dans un contexte européen: quel rôle pour l’européanisation?”, in Bruno Palier, Yves Surel (eds), L’Europe en action, 313-57.
  • [92]
    The two processes are often intertwined – the European bodies reference international research organisations to back up their recommendations: Bernard Casey, “The OECD jobs strategy and the European employment strategy”, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 10(3), 2004, 329-52.
  • [93]
    Council Resolution of 15 December 1997 on the 1998 Employment Guidelines, Official Journal, C 030, 28/01/1998, 1-5, <>.
  • [94]
    Bruno Palier, “De welfare au workfare: les transformations des politiques de lutte contre la pauvreté”, Regards croisés sur l’économie, 4, 2008, 162-68.
  • [95]
  • [96]
    Council Decision of 22 July 2003 on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States, Official Journal, L 197, 05/08/2003 13-21, <>.
  • [97]
    2003/578/EC: Council Decision of 22 July 2003 on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States, Official Journal L 197, 05/08/2003, 13-21, <>.
  • [98]
    These notions are explicitly defined and defended in the OECD publication, “Countering the risks of labour market exclusion”, Employment Outlook, 1996.
  • [99]
    It is necessary to develop “financial incentives with a view to making work attractive and encouraging men and women to seek, take up and remain in work”, <>.
  • [100]
    It is necessary “in particular [to] review replacement rates and benefit duration; ensure effective benefit management, notably with respect to the link with effective job search”, <>.
  • [101]
    It is necessary to “consider the provision of in-work benefits, where appropriate; and work with a view to eliminating inactivity traps”, <>.
  • [102]
    It is necessary to move towards “a significant reduction in high marginal effective tax rates and, where appropriate, in the tax burden on low paid workers”, <>.
  • [103]
    On benchmarking as a technique for targeting and blaming defaulting states, see Isabelle Bruno, “From integration by law to Europeanisation by numbers. The making of a ‘competitive Europe’” through intergovernmental benchmarking’, in Michel Mangenot, Jay Rowell (eds), A Political Sociology of the European Union (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 185-205.
  • [104]
    Council Decision of 12 July 2005 on Guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States, Official Journal, L205, 06/08/2005,
  • [105]
    Council decision of 15 July 2008 on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States (2008/618/EC), <>.
  • [106]
    The reduction in working time was envisaged in 1997 as one means among others to stimulate employment. This arrangement had disappeared from the guidelines by 2003.
  • [107]
    For converging analyses of the European Employment Strategy and the economic orientations of the DG for Employment, see Bernard Conter, “Plein-emploi ou chômage nécessaire: la stratégie européenne pour l’emploi, entre utopie et pragmatisme”, Politique européenne, 21, 2007, 21-40; Bruno Palier, “Du welfare au workfare…”.
  • [108]
    European Commission, “Modernising social protection for more and better jobs - a comprehensive approach contributing to making work pay”, Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, COM(2003), 842, Brussels, 30 December 2003, < c10121_en.htm>.
  • [109]
    European Commission, “Modernising social protection for more and better jobs - a comprehensive approach contributing to making work pay”, Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, COM(2003), 842, Brussels, 30 December 2003, < c10121_en.htm>.
  • [110]
    European Commission, “Modernising social protection for more and better jobs - a comprehensive approach contributing to making work pay”, Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, COM(2003), 842, Brussels, 30 December 2003, < c10121_en.htm>.
  • [111]
    OECD, “Making work pay”, Employment Outlook, 1996, available online at <>, 52.
  • [112]
    In the eighteen footnotes, the 2003 Communication only references texts by the Commission or by the OECD (five mentioned). It never refers to the ILO.
  • [113]
    European Commission, “Modernising social protection for greater social justice and economic cohesion: taking forward the active inclusion of people furthest from the labour market”, Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, COM(2007) 620 final, Brussels, 17/10/2007, <>.
  • [114]
    European Commission, “Towards common principles of flexicurity: more and better jobs through flexibility and security”, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, COM(2007)359, Brussels, 27 June 2007, <>.
  • [115]
    Robert Salais, Gilles Raveaud, Mathieu Grégoire, “L’évaluation de l’impact de la Stratégie européenne pour l’emploi”, Dares, Ministry for Employment and Solidarity, 2002, 33.
  • [116]
    Salais et al., “L’évaluation de l’impact de la Stratégie européenne pour l’emploi”,34.
  • [117]
    Salais et al., “L’évaluation de l’impact de la Stratégie européenne pour l’emploi”, 34.
  • [118]
    Vincent Gayon, “L’OECD au travail. Contribution à une sociologie historique de la ‘coopération économique internationale’ sur le chômage et l’emploi (1970-2010)”, Ph.D thesis in political science, supervised by Brigitte Gaïti, Paris, Université Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne, 30 November 2010; Bernard Casey, “The OECD jobs strategy…”.
  • [119]
    For an analysis of the political compromises behind the EES, see Bernard Conter, La stratégie européenne pour l’emploi: de l’enthousiasme à l’effacement (Brussels: CRISP, 2012); Jean-Claude Barbier, La longue marche vers l’Europe sociale (Paris: PUF, 2008). For a review of historical models of activation, see Jean-Claude Barbier, “Les politiques d’activation des pays scandinaves et l’expérience française”, Revue française des affaires sociales, 4, 2003, 189-92.
  • [120]
    For convergent analyses of the EES and the direction taken by the DG for Employment, see Bernard Conter, “Plein-emploi ou chômage nécessaire…”; Bruno Palier, “De welfare au workfare…”.
  • [121]
    European Commission, “Modernising social protection…”.
  • [122]
    On the Commission’s specific approach to activation, see Luis Moreno, Amparo Serrano Pascual, “Europeización del Bienestar y activación”; Werner Eichhorst, Regina Konle-Seidl, “Contingent convergence, a comparative analysis of activation policies”, IZA Discussion Paper, 3905, 2008; Luis Moreno Pestaña, Amparo Serrano Pascual, “Europeanisation and Spanish welfare. The case of employment policy”, in Ana Guillén, Margarita León (eds), The Spanish Welfare State in the European Context (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), 39-58.
  • [123]
    If work “pays” for employees and costs less for businesses, then the unemployment rate should decrease. On the concept of algorithms, see Pierre Muller, “Les politiques publiques comme construction d’un rapport au monde”, in Alain Faure, Gilles Pollet, Philippe Warin (eds) La construction du sens dans les politiques publiques. Débats autour de la notion de référentiel (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1995), 158-9.
  • [124]
    Such as the “modernisation” of public employment services, “incentives” for the unemployed and those not working to return to work, reduced social contributions for businesses, and lower taxes for those on low incomes.
  • [125]
    Such as increasing the employment rate, encouraging the establishment of a more “flexible” and less skewed labour market, “cleaning up” public accounts, and limiting social spending.
  • [126]
    Philippe Pochet, “A European approach to unemployment benefits?”, in Florence Lefresne (ed.), Unemployment Benefit Systems in Europe and North America, Reforms and Crisis (Brussels: ETUI, 2010), 45-59.
  • [127]
    Werner Eichhorst, Anton Hemerijck, “Welfare and employment. A European dilemma?”, IZA Discussion Papers, 3870, December 2008; Hélène Caune, “Expertiser, comparer, imiter: orienter sans contraindre les systèmes de protection sociale”, presentation at the 10th Congress of the French Association of Political Science, Grenoble, 7-9 September, 2009.
  • [128]
    European Commission, “Modernising social protection for more and better jobs. A comprehensive approach to contributing to making work pay”, 2003.
  • [129]
    A similar observation was made by Nicolas Jabko regarding the Economic and Monetary Union, where the need to go deeper was not the result of economic or geopolitical evolution within the states but rather the result of a political strategy by the Commission to actively promote a model of monetary orthodoxy that appealed to the national elites. Nicolas Jabko, “In the name of the market. How the European Commission paved the way for monetary union”, Journal of European Public Policy, 6(3), 1999, 475-95.
  • [130]
    Inversely, the absence of these European instruments may explain the EU’s lack of autonomy within other sectors of public policy, such as urban policy. Charlotte Halpern, Patrick Le Galès, “Pas d’action publique autonome sans instruments propres. Analyse comparé et longitudinale des politiques environnementales et urbaines de l’union européenne”, Revue française de science politique, 61(1), 2011, 51-78.
  • [131]
    How action plans are elaborated is difficult to understand unless we take into account the representations of actors and the ways European exchanges make these representations evolve – as in the area of European defence policy and security, for example: Frédéric Mérand, “Social representations in the European security and defence policy”, Cooperation and Conflict, 41, 2006, 131-52, and “EU policies” in Adrian Favell, Virginie Guiraudon (eds), Sociology of the European Union (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 192.
  • [132]
    Hélène Michel, Cécile Robert (eds), La fabrique des “Européens”. Processus de socialisation et construction européenne (Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2010).
  • [133]
    Source: Online directory of French administration, consulted 20 April 2012.
  • [134]
    Rémi Barroux, “Pôle emploi veut que les départements financent le suivi renforcé des allocataires du RSA”, Le Monde, 29 May 2009.
  • [135]
    Marc Landré, “Ce que pensent de Martin Hirsch plusieurs de ses proches”, L’Expansion, 28 March 2008.
  • [136]
    Sophie Jacquot, Cornelia Woll, Les usages de l’Europe…
  • [137]
    Sophie Jacquot, “National welfare state reforms and the question of Europeanisation: from impact to usages”, RECWOWE Working Papers, 1, 2008.
  • [138]
    Haut-commissaire aux solidarités actives contre la pauvreté, “Livre Vert. Vers un Revenu de Solidarité Active”,
  • [139]
    The DG for Employment was at that time concerned with a “triangular conundrum” in modern welfare states, constituted by three main challenges: 1/ battling “unemployment traps [to] reduce benefit dependency”; 2/ “poverty alleviation”; 3/ “be[ing] consistent with a broader budgetary framework” (European Commission, “Modernising social protection…”, 5).
  • [140]
    Rosa Sanchez Salgado, Cornelia Woll, “L’européanisation et les acteurs non étatiques”.
  • [141]
    The same “dramatic” use of European recommendations has already been observed in the reform of other sectors in Europe, for example in pension reform (European Commission, “Study on pension schemes in EU Countries”, May 2000; Bruno Palier, Giuliano Bonoli, “La montée en puissance des fonds de pension: une lecture comparative des réformes des systèmes de retraite, entre modèle global et cheminements nationaux”, L’année de la régulation, 4, 2000) or in the case of telecommunications (Mark Thatcher, The Politics of Telecommunications…).
  • [142]
    Bruno Le Maire, explaining his vote at the National Assembly, full text of the sitting of 8 October 2008.
  • [143]
    Martin Hirsch, speech at the National Assembly, full text of the sitting of 8 October 2008.
  • [144]
    Martin Hirsch, “Raisons de voter pour le RSA”, 7,
  • [145]
    National Assembly, public vote on the whole bill relating to the roll out of the Revenue de Solidarité Active and reforming insertion policies, sitting of 8 October 2008.
  • [146]
    Christine Ehrel, Lou Mandin, Bruno Palier, “The leverage effect. The Open Method of Coordination in France”, in Jonathan Zeitlin, Philippe Pochet (eds), The Open Method of Coordination in Action. The European Employment Strategy and Social Inclusion Strategies (Brussels: PIE-Peter Lang, 2005), 217-48.
  • [147]
    David Dolowitz, David Marsh, “Learning from abroad: the role of policy transfer in contemporary policymaking”, Governance, 13(1), 2000, 5-24.
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    On this controversy see the exchanges between David Benson, Andrew Jordan, “What have we learned from policy transfer research?”, Political Studies Review, 9(3), 2011, 366-78, and Mauricio Dussauge-Laguna, “On the past and future of policy transfer research: Benson and Jordan revisited”, Political Studies Review, 10(3), 2012, 313-24.
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    David P. Dolowitz, David Marsh, “The future of policy transfer research”, Political Studies Review, 10(3), 2012, 339-45 (340). On the continuum between voluntary transfers and compulsory transfers see in particular David Dolowitz, Policy Transfer and British Social Policy (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000), 10.
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    The EU has even been able to bring about public policy transfers between states which are neighbours of but not members of the EU. On how the AKP governments in Turkey hastened to reform pension regimes between 2003 and 2008 so that they conformed more closely to the European social mode, hoping thus to accelerate the EU membership process, see Cem Uktu Duyulmus, “Social security reform in Turkey”, in Paolo Graziano, Sophie Jacquot, Bruno Palier (eds), The EU and the Domestic Politics of Welfare State Reforms, 280-315.
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    Communication from the Commission to member states regarding Interreg III, 28 April 2000.
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    Martin Hirsch, “Le RSA va injecter 1,5 milliard dans l’économie”, Le Parisien, 18 June 2009.
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    Patrick Hassenteufel (ed.), “La libéralisation des systèmes de protection maladie européens. Convergence, européanisation et adaptations nationales”, Politique européenne, 1(2), 2001, 29-48.
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    European Commission, “Modernising social protection…”.
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    “Tax and benefit reform in the UK. Making work pay”, meeting of the Mutual Learning Program, London, 27 September 2000.
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    Bertrand Martinot, La Lettre du Fonds social européen en France, 6 January 2010, 1
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    Bertrand Martinot, La Lettre du Fonds social européen en France, 2.
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    See the presentation of ESF programs on the Commission’s website: <>.
  • [159]
    As in France and Spain, “the ESF’s funding priorities in the Netherlands aim to help more people have access to the labour market” (source:
  • [160]
    In 2007 spending on welfare benefits reached 3.9 billion euros in the Netherlands and the ESF only contributed 830 million over the 2007-2013 period. (Source: Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs, “National Reform Programme for the Netherlands 2008-2010”, 75).
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    Source: DREES, “Les dépenses d’aide social départementale en 2007”, Etudes et résultats, 682, 2009, 1.
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    Information confirmed in interviews E40 and E42 and “La Generalidad suspende la Renta Mínima de Inserción a 4.521 receptores que no cumplían los requisitos”, La Voz de Barcelona, 20 January 2012.
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    Interviews E38, E39, E40, E41.
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    This is a confirmation of Catherine Palpant’s hypothesis according to which “the influence of structural funds and particularly the European Social Fund (ESF) can be reinforced by such a context”; here, the dependency of local budgets on external funding. See Catherine Palpant, “Les politiques de l’emploi en Espagne et en Pologne dans leur dimension territoriale”, in Bruno Palier, Yves Surel (eds) Quand les politiques changent (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010), 355-88 (364).
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    “Prevent and combat unemployment”, “develop human resources” and “social integration into the labour market”; these are the three tasks of the ESF (Article 1 of Regulation (EC) No 1784/1999 on the European Social Fund, Official Journal, noL213, 13 August 1999), <>.
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    Article 147 of the Treaty of Amsterdam.
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    See Article 4 of Regulation (EU) No 1304/2013 of the European parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the European Social Fund, <>.
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    The five axes are: “1/ To foster entrepreneurship and improve the adaptability of workers, employers and enterprises; 2/ To enhance employability, social inclusion and equal opportunities for men and women; 3/ To increase and improve human capital; 4/ To promote transnational and inter-regional co-operation; 5/ Technical assistance.”
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    Table of ESF projects in Catalonia by axis of intervention, provided by the person interviewed in E43.
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    Semi-directive interviews, E40, E41, E42, E43, conducted in Barcelona between 21 and 25 March 2011.
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    Michel Foucault, Naissance de la biopolitique. Cours au college de France (1978-1979) (Paris: Seuil, 2004).
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    Patrick Hassenteufel, Yves Surel, “Des politiques publiques comme les autres?”.

Two main criticisms are usually made of European studies in the field of employment policies: that “Europeanisation” is a concept of little value in an area which rarely falls under EU jurisdiction; and that the weakness of European instruments means that the EU is unable to limit the polarisation of welfare regimes. This article presents the results of the author’s recent PhD thesis concerning the “activation” of social policies in France, Spain and the Netherlands and shows that it is possible to nuance and challenge these recurring criticisms. Policy instruments and policy principles have converged since the launch of the European Employment Strategy in 1997, and European harmonisation mechanisms have acted as an independent variable within the social changes which have occurred in France, Spain and the Netherlands.

Mehdi Arrignon
Mehdi Arrignon has a doctorate in political science and is an ATER (temporary teaching and research associate) at Sciences Po Grenoble and Associate Researcher at PACTE. His work is situated at the crossroads between public policy analysis and European studies, and he has recently published: “Choisir son licenciement?” Analyse sociologique des plans de départs ‘volontaires’ dans une multinationale de l’informatique”, SociologieS, May 2013,; “Les allocataires du Revenu de solidarité active face aux nouvelles injonctions de l’État social”, in Philippe Warin, Servet Ertul, Jean-Philippe Melchior (eds), Les parcours sociaux à l’épreuve des politiques publiques (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012), 129-38. His research currently focuses on government incentive instruments tested at several levels of public action (Sciences Po Grenoble, 1030 avenue central, Domaine Universitaire, 38400, Saint-Martin-d’Hères).
Translated from French by
Katharine Throssell
Uploaded on on 17/12/2014
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