Reinventing Social Solidarity across Europe, edited by Marion Ellison

Policy Press, 2011, xv + 270 pp, hbk, 1 847 42727 4, £70

Social solidarity is ‘a contested, fluid, multilevel and multifaceted concept within the European polity, civil society and the public realm.’ This volume treats this solidarity as ‘a lived experience, a shared learning experience and a normative construct,’ (p.11) at the heart of which is a conflict between the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, with predictable inequalities resulting from competitive labour markets, and a European Social Model predicated on human rights and social protections from the inequalities generated by both a globalizing economy and such policies as the Stability and Growth Pact. In the context of today’s austerity measures, the book seeks both an understanding of social solidarity in Europe and new means to create an enhanced social solidarity, nationally, within Europe, and globally. So is globalization a problem to solidarity? No. There has been no ‘race to the bottom’ amongst European welfare states, and people still find their solidarities in their families and communities. And yes, in the sense that national institutional solidarities now need to be supplemented by transnational ones, such as those generated by the EU.

Different chapters study what solidarity might mean in terms of social policy related to children, social movements (such as trade unionism), energy policy, immigration integration policy, and a European politics in which policy instruments might reduce rather than enhance social solidarity simply because the political process will always prioritise certain interests over others. The chapter which describes this last process is appropriately followed by one which shows that in post-communist European states the establishment of market economies has caused governments to discard such solidarities as predictable local labour markets.

A particularly interesting set of empirical results is represented by a table on p.219 which shows how people in different European countries differ in their attitude to government intervention to redistribute resources ( – the UK is midrange), but also that those differences are small compared to average EU acceptance of government intervention. The author of this chapter, Béla Janky, concludes that ‘Eurosceptic claims about the lack of any common ground for a Europe-wide social policy framework are unfounded’ (p.223).

The editor concludes that, whilst there are pressures towards increasing individualization and fragmentation, there are policy areas in which European social solidarity is more of a reality than it was (for instance, in energy policy), and it doesn’t seem unrealistic when he calls for a reinvention of social solidarity on a variety of levels.

Whilst books such as this can sometimes suffer from a sense of fragmentation born of the fact that each contributor has written about the subjects in which they personally are interested, the overall impression of this volume is that there is something called social solidarity and that in terms of its future there is everything to play for. Social solidarity at every level faces challenges, but there are also signs of increasing solidarity in particular policy areas, and that a broader social solidarity is perfectly possible.