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European Unemployment Benefit Scheme: Between Political Conflicts and Windows of Opportunity

Contentious Politics
European Politics
Political Economy
Social Policy
Decision Making
Francesco Corti
Università degli Studi di Milano
Francesco Corti
Università degli Studi di Milano

Abstract

In June 2018, following the Meseberg declaration, German social democratic Minister of Finance launched a campaign for a European Unemployment Benefit Scheme (EUBS), as a “solidarity-based” reinsurance fund, from which a euro area Member State could borrow when facing an economic crisis that leads to massive job losses. The idea of a EUBS, as an institutional automatic stabilizer in case of economic shocks or structural change in the labor market, is certainly not new. It was born already in the mid-nineteen-seventies when the debate on a Monetary Union started and the idea of a fiscal capacity for the euro area was analyzed as an instrument of stabilization and redistribution. However, despite long-standing debates and detailed economic analyses, Member States have always failed to find a political consensus. Traditional political economy literature explains such impasse while looking at the rationale of the political contestation and arguing that a one-dimensional divide between creditor countries, Germany in primis, and debtor Member States (e.g. Italy) characterizes the conflict over the implementation of a EUBS. Conversely, this paper provides empirical evidence of the existence of a complex "clash syndrome”, i.e. a combination of political tensions (functional, normative and territorial). To do so, it traces the post-crisis political debate on EUBS while relying on expert and élite interviews with key policy-makers at national and European level and analyzing – where available – national position papers. The reconstruction is corroborated with the results of a new élite survey, that investigates the opinions of MPs on EU integration process in seven countries (IT, DE, ES, FR, PL, UK, SE). The main argument is that such coexistence of multiple and overlapping lines of conflict may hamper the implementation of a EUBS, but may also lead to the emergence of new political coalitions and windows of opportunity for policy change.