At a lunch today sponsored by the EuroCommerce Business Group, and organised by my good colleague Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP, I heard Commission Director Xavier Prats Monné (sic), of the Unemployment Directorate, announce that “Flexicurity” will be the main theme of EU’s employment activity in 2008. A bitter chill descended on my heart.
To define “Flexicurity”, I have to explain a phenomenon with which I have become familiar in my eight years in Brussels. When the EU faces two wholly irreconcilable objectives, it invents a neologism. Usually the new word or phrase exists in a vacuum. It is rarely backed by serious policies which might credibly deliver the desired outcome. It seems to be enough that they just invent the word, and piously repeat it whenever the problem arises. But of course a word is not a solution, still less a policy.
Take the Lisbon Process. The EU faced an irreconcilable clash between its natural desire to promote economic growth, and its reluctance to take the serious and difficult measures needed to promote growth — like radical deregulation and deep tax cuts. So it invented the “Lisbon Process”. This is constantly called in aid when questions arise about economic failure in the EU. It is the subject of endless conferences and position papers and references and footnotes. Yet to the extent that it exists at all, it represents failure on an heroic scale.
Launched in 2000, it had the hubristic objective of making the EU “The world’s most dynamic knowledge-based economy in ten years” (makes your toes curl with embarrassment, doesn’t it?). Ten years would be 2010 — now only two years away. Yet over the last eight years, the EU has continued to slide down the economic league tables against the US, and especially against the genuinely dynamic economies of Asia.
But never mind. We don’t need a policy. We have a phrase!
Then there’s “Subsidiarity“. There is an unresolved conflict between the relentless centralisation and bureaucratisation of power in the EU’s institutions, and the very reasonable desire of ordinary folk to have at least some say in their future and governance. But don’t worry: we have “Subsidiarity”, the doctrine that in the EU, decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level. Thus the EU genuflects to localism, but only rhetorically. I myself do not know of any concrete occasion when a decision or a policy area has been devolved to a subsidiary level in the EU.
Subsidiarity is there as a trap and a delusion for the unwary, a way of reassuring the sceptical citizen that her interests are considered, while in reality her democracy is undermined and vitiated.
Which brings me to “Flexicurity“. There is a conflict between the EU economies’ desperate need for labour market flexibility, and the EU’s social-model concept of “employment protection”. Never mind that socialist “employment protection” policies do not protect employment at all — on the contrary, they destroy jobs and prosperity, and ramp up unemployment, as we can plainly see. These two approaches are wholly irreconcilable. Yet we have coined a new word, flexicurity, which proves that we can have our socialist cake and eat it.
And again, flexicurity is the subject of endless debates and conferences and proposals and position papers, and thousands of amendments. But they still can’t make two and two make five. As an example of pretence and self-delusion on an heroic scale, “Flexicurity” stands as a metaphor and an example for the whole EU project.
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