Dialogue on a Social Market Economy
Building a European social market economy is part of the quest for world peace and global justice. That was the theme of the Dialogue Seminar between Churches and the European Commission on 14 December.
The term ‘social market economy’ entered the EU treaties, along with other objectives, via the Treaty of Lisbon. The model of the social market economy thus became one of the major objectives of the Union. The comprehensive realisation of this objective, however, is still to be achieved. But what are the foundations of this economic model? How can we Europeanise it? The current crisis in the Eurozone, and the structural weaknesses and imbalances in the European Union as a whole, underline the urgent need for this debate.
In 2012, to everybody’s surprise, the COMECE Bishops were the first to draw the attention of the European public to the need to define this “highly competitive social market economy”, now declared as an EU objective by the Treaty of Lisbon. Last January, they published a Declaration entitled “A European Community of Solidarity and Responsibility” in order to give the new concept some substance and a concrete interpretation. The proposals contained in the document (available in English, French and German) were very favourably received in economic and institutional circles.
Moreover, on 13 December, COMECE organised in Brussels a colloquium with UNIAPAC Europe (Union Internationale des Associations Patronales Chrétiennes), l'ADIC (Association Chrétienne des Dirigeants et Cadre) and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation entitled “Social Market Economy in Europe: Strengthening Competitiveness – Enhancing Social Cohesion” which notably included contributions by Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Steven Vanackere.
COMECE and CEC (Conference of European Churches) also invited the European Commission to reflect on the concept of a social market economy during a Dialogue Seminar organised on 14 December with the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA).
Dialogue Seminars have a longstanding tradition in the cooperation between the European Commission and the Churches in Europe. Since their beginning in the early 1990s they have proved to be a significant discussion forum for matters of common concern. They represent an important element of the open, transparent and regular dialogue between the European Commission and the Churches in Europe, and have become officially associated with EU institutional business through Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Starting from the COMECE Declaration, Bishop Ambrosio, COMECE Vice-President, emphasised that the notion of a social market economy is a key to getting citizens to find trust again in the European project. ‘It is also necessary to value more the meaning of free and gratuitous action not only in the context of economic activities but also in social and political life’ he added.
Prof. Dr. Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Bishop of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Bavaria highlighted that “the success of the social market economy is especially due to the fact that social responsibility is an integrated element of the economic process and does not come simply as a next step after economic prosperity. The critical challenge of a social market economy today is to address climate change, which affects especially the poor countries in the South.”
In a second session, church experts from different Member States were invited to assess the convergence of the social market economy in Europe.
From Poland, Dr. Sarnacki SJ suggested that the social market economy demands a rationally-orientated economy, rooted in social trust reinforced by a social contract. The ideal is to balance economic productivity with social responsibility. ‘This implies transparency, a fair and satisfactory legal system, as well as the implementation of the rules of solidarity and participation. This model is not being realized in the actual situation’ he concluded.
Prof. Dr. Heikki Hiilamo reported on the experience of Finland which was affected by a crucial economic depression in the 1990’s. Since this experience the churches have been contributing to the public efforts to address poverty and social exclusion, complementing the social services of the State. He therefore called on the European Commission “to open the European funding programmes more than it does today to church actors.”
The third and last session was dedicated to Youth Unemployment as an imminent challenge across the EU. Different church organisations presented their successful projects to fight youth unemployment: The Inclusion of Young Workers by Cáritas Diocesana Segorbe Castellón (Spain), the ‘One in a million campaign’ launched by the Youth Trust in Birmingham (UK), the QuiK-Service, a qualification initiative launched by the Kolping Akademie in Ingolstadt, (Germany).
Finally, it is not enough that the concept of a ‘European social market economy’ has been enshrined in the EU Treaties since 2009. The Churches and church organisations recall the need to spread this concept across Europe, so that the EU Member States may survive the challenge of global competition, and in order to be able to continue offering the most vulnerable in our midst effective social protection; as well as to be sustainable, given the requirements of environmental and climatic protection.
The Churches have put forward a highly ambitious definition of this economic model. The ball is now in the court of the European Commission, which faces a historic opportunity for grasping the occasion of the turning point of the economic and financial crisis to propose to the Member States a European model that is consistent and coherent, capable of bringing a humanising element to economics and capitalism.
Translated from the Original Text in French