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The External Dimension of EU Social Policy in Times of Global Crisis

Rebecca Zahn

The European Union has enjoyed a limited amount of competence to develop a social policy applicable to its Member States since the adoption of the Single European Act in 1986. The underlying rationale for a European social policy has hitherto been the demand for broad equivalence in labour standards. In order to achieve this goal, the EU has increasingly relied upon soft law mechanisms and dialogue instead of hard law mechanisms to adopt minimum standards. Since the early 1990s, the EU has also been calling for a 'social side' to globalisation in order to counter-balance the economic and social facets of world trade by incorporating social values into EU external relations. In promoting this external social policy, the EU has focussed on a soft law and dialogue-oriented approach thus mirroring the mechanisms used in recent years in the development of an internal EU social policy. It has therefore been argued, that the nature of the EU's external social policy depends mainly on how much the EU develops its own social self. This paper proposes to re-examine the validity of this argument by assessing the impact of the Lisbon Treaty and the global economic crisis on the EU's social policies. In order to do so, the paper first describes the effects of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and of the ongoing global economic crisis on the EU's internal and external social policy. As a second step, the paper discusses the impact of the Lisbon Treaty and the global economic crisis in order to assess whether parallels between internal and external social policy approaches can still be drawn or whether both are starting to develop in distinct and different ways.



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