Social Dialogue, Employment and Territories Towards a European Politics of Capabilities

To turn Europe into a knowledge-based economy as advocated at Lisbon in March 2000 threatens social cohesion. The flexibilisation of work, industry and regional economies creates conflict between two strategic objectives. To raise levels of employability and adaptability through ‘active labour market policy’ threatens job security and increases social risk. ‘Modernising social protection’ implies controlling its costs. Other things being equal, the first objective raises demands for protection while the second lowers its quality. This conflict is central to future social dialogue. Europe’s social actors and citizens will judge change in terms of equitable access to work and sound social protection, as experienced in their lives. To respond to these expectations, Europe needs to build a framework of active security. These conclusions were reached in the preparatory workshops and European conference held by the researchers and actors in the European social dialogue who present this research project.

A rigorous, innovative theoretical and methodological approach must underpin a sound empirical analysis of the facts. The problem is further complicated by the way it cuts across normal divisions of public action: work, employment, social protection, regional development. The process of work transformation reconfigures these elements and their interaction. It disrupts social relations within firms, people’s lives, their visions of the future, their ambitions and work plans, the connections with markets and social protection, local networks. Most research happily adopts a global approach to institutionalised systems along a logic of adjustment. They advocate simplistically the extension of general and vocational training. The originality of our project lies in the premise that a knowledge-based economy is an economy whose products, services, types of work are in constantly evolving, responding to pressure to innovate. Uncertainty becomes the driving force for action. Hence the problem of social cohesion: the potential response is not passive protection, but active security. Both problem and response concern firms as much as individuals. This analysis centres the project on the theoretical concept of capabilities. To face uncertainty, actors need capabilities - real possibilities of operating in an efficient manner to protect themselves from risk. The public actor – Europe – must promote an equitable distribution of capabilities, their development and their reinforcement in law and social convention. The concept has a long tradition in economics, (being central to the work of Amartya Sen, Nobel prize winner in economics) and in law. It is currently highly relevant.

The Eurocap project uses a sample of regions and firms in seven European countries. Empirical, detailed research analyses a range of business policies and public plans. These integrate work change, social dialogue and collective responsibility into the organisation of the economy, employment and welfare provision. Do these approaches involve a ‘politics of capabilities’?  Do they offer security as employment changes? We suspect localities are more advanced in practical knowledge and experience than is often believed. The research aims to learn from local lessons: to produce more systematic, scientific analysis, reflexive and applicable to European social dialogue and legislation. The objective is an evaluation of macro-economic policies and social policies. Regional and macro-analysis will merge to generate new statistical categories, indicators, indices. The research, by orchestrating work between researchers and social actors, produces theoretical knowledge, regional analysis, policy lessons.

14 research teams in 7 European countries are associated to the project.

Some publications based on the project: