Final Reflections: European Citizenship Education, People-centered Solutions and the Integration of Public Opinion into Scientific Research – Jet Bussemaker, Former Dutch Minister of Education and Professor at Leiden University on the Welfare State Futures Programme

by Jet Bussemaker

European citizenship values/citizenship education rather than European Social Union

Within the framework of supranational systems like the EU, and national policy making, we can distinguish two perspectives, an optimistic and a pessimistic view. Within the optimistic approach, social policy is regarded as an unavoidable spill-over effect of economic European policies. Maurizio Ferrera formulated such a view during the WSF final conference, arguing for a European Social Union. In the European discussions I experienced as a Minister, I saw most colleagues trying to protect their national welfare arrangements against European involvement irrespective of political party family. Hence, I am afraid there is not that much evidence for such an optimistic view these days.

Opening Panel: Maurizio Ferrera | University of Milan (Presenting), Mary Daly | University of Oxford, Ellen Immergut | European University Institute, Welfare State Futures Scientific Programme Coordinator

Within the pessimistic approach, social policy might be something that divides Europe, since citizens want to protect their national sovereignty vis a vis European power, to uphold national forms of solidarity. I think this view is too pessimistic. My experience is that people accept some European regulation, for example to avoid unequal pay for truck drivers and others, but that it should really focus on issues crossing national borders.

Hence, I am not as optimistic as Ferrera, regarding social policy as a stepping stone to mainstream the EMU and to create pan European solidarity, at the same time that I am not completely pessimistic about European collaboration.

In my opinion, there is a need for international citizenship education that emphasizes the importance of European values. The social pillar of social rights might create new incentives for such a collaboration, using proper windows of opportunity. My advice to policymakers and politicians should be to look upon new windows of opportunity, outside the regular institutional frameworks.

Tailor-made and people centered solutions

The famous typology of welfare states and arrangements are not sufficient anymore to understand current problems and create tools for change. Especially the distinction between universal and general one-size-fits all arrangement, on the one hand, and means-tested or privatized solutions on the other hand becomes problematic (if you wish, between the traditional social-democratic and liberal solution, in terms of welfare state regimes). Both did work quite well to analyse the history of the welfare state, the question is whether it helps to understand the challenges of the future. We need research on how to cope with the multiple problems that vulnerable families and individuals face today, in order to help policy makers to draft tailor-made policies for citizens at risk.

To give a few examples that came up during the WSF Final Conference:

migrants with a tough travel history, psychological problems, and bad perspectives on work and education;

Panel on “Migrants’ portability of right” – Panel chair Anna Amelina, Project leader TRANSWEL

abused children who grew up in poverty in neighbourhoods with poor social provision, and social skills;

frail elderly, who might not only need professional care, but often lack social interaction and informal support systems.

Julien Forder Presenting
Julien Forder – Project leader EXCELC

A good example: the presentation on the experience of quality of life among the elderly in the UK, Finland and Austria that shows that quality of life depends on personal circumstances much more than on the structure of policies.

My advice to scientists and policy makers should be to invest more in the understanding of the interrelation between financial, social, educational and health – problems – in short multi-problems – specific groups in society are faced with, and to what extent various policies really work in one direction—or not. What we need are much more tailor-made and people centered policies.

My argument for tailor-made or personalised solutions should not be confused with policies directed only to the most deprived. Otherwise, we should fall in the trap of (neo-)liberal approaches where welfare is only for the very poor, and we might lose the support of the middle class, which is in fact really necessary to keep enough support to contribute to welfare provisions.

Integrating public opinion in scientific research – voice of citizens

The perspective of democratic forums (Taylor-Gooby’s WelfSoc project) are an interesting tool for research, giving a promising perspective to incorporate the voice of citizens. Not as an alternative, but in addition to representative systems. As being stressed in one of the workshops, framing is very important here, especially for moderators interviewing citizens, since they have to take into account what kind of knowledge citizens have of the policy process, and what kind of assumptions on societal groups may influence their opinions. (By the way, also the framing of politicians deserves our attention: framing is getting more and more important in politics, and sometimes it seems more important for politicians to echo the voice of citizens, than to be successful in policy reforms.

Peter Taylor-Gooby, Project Leader WelfSOC

An example from my own party; we were in government, but low dramatically during the last elections last year. We were extremely successful in reforms – but citizens did not like it, since in their experiences the transitions created too much insecurity, and our policies were not sufficiently value-based.)  In addition, listening to public opinion is of course extremely important in creating support for reforms, but at the same time, public opinion and research evidence might not go in the same direction. For example, public opinion in my country is very much in favour of decreasing the amount in pupils in classrooms to improve education, although there is no scientific research that proves that small classrooms are decisive for good education (the quality of teachers for example, seems to be more important). Another example: evidence shows that the Dutch health care system belongs to the best of the world, but citizens worry most of all issues about health care.

I want to conclude with the famous conceptual scheme from Albert Hirschman about exit, voice and loyalty. Translated to European welfare state, we should prevent citizens from losing their belief in welfare and European collaboration, and to prefer to leave the system and exit (cf Brexit). At the same time, we have to make different voices better heard and understand (children, migrants, and I would add also the populist voice of people who feel that they are not being heard by traditional political parties). Loyalty can interplay to prevent exit and making voices heard. To create loyalty, we should increase and foster the ties between citizens and the welfare state- by emphasizing reciprocity between citizens and their needs.

Jet Bussemaker – Final Roundtable at the WSF Final Conference in Florence