Abstract: Since 2009, austerity and the pressure for decreasing public spending in Europe have strongly targeted welfare services such as transport, healthcare, social services, culture and education, etc. In order to understand the current situation of welfare services in Europe today, one must take a step back and look at the broader development what has been the role of the EU in the marketization of public services? And to what extent has contestation mattered in that regard? From an institutionalist point of view, the EU has exhibited a bias towards negative integration, that is policies relying on competition and marketization. This is explained by the building the Single Market through liberalization directives and the institutional strength of competition law. Yet, legal and institutional factors (including case law) do not have a deterministic, mechanic effect on policy making. One needs to look at the political battles surrounding welfare services, and especially mobilization of left wing political actors (including radical left or social democratic parties, trade unions, and associations from the global justice movement) against marketization policies. Main contentious episodes have included protest against the EU Services directive, the campaign calling for an EU Framework directive on welfare services, and the global mobilization against the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The study of politicization through coalition formation and discourse provides evidence that politicization could occasionally able to slow down or hamper marketization. Yet, the EU has consistently acted as a catalyser for the marketization of welfare and continues to do so. Today, in the aftermath of the Eurozone crisis, austerity and marketization are two sides of the same coin.
Keywords: welfare – services – marketization – European Union – politicization – democracy.
* Lecturer in Political Science and European Studies, CEVIPOL-Institut d’études européennes, Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), firstname.lastname@example.org.