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The End of Social Europe? Assessing the Role of Political and Organizational Change in the EU Political System

Paolo Graziano, Miriam Hartlapp

The economic crisis has created a paradox, especially at the European level: Pure market mechanisms and competition as an organizational logic have received fundamental criticism. Yet, economic actors, defending these regulatory approaches see their policy options strengthened. In order to understand this paradox a better knowledge of changing relationship between economic and social actors in EU decision-making seems important. Drawing on Easton's political system approach we identify the 2004 and 2009 European elections and the financial and economic crisis as inputs to the EU political system and ask if and how they have altered interactions and power relationships among core actors in the system. We argue that although crisis generated demand could have predicted European social policies becoming more relevant in order to cope with the crisis, election results and member states political center of gravity empowered actors interested in deepening economic integration and austerity policies. In fact, social policy has been substantially removed from the priorities of the EU political agenda already prior to the crisis. We present new empirical data contributing to this argument from different perspectives and sources: First, we provide stylized evidence on the development of EU social policy over time, differentiated according to instrument types. Secondly, we analyse the ideological composition of the Commission, we use interview material on the perceived strength of different Commission portfolios and we assess the increasing intergovernmentalist turn in European policies and discuss their consequences.

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