The following are the notes of the closing remarks during the conference “Rafforzare il Modello Sociale Europeo. Il contributo della Qualità Sociale alla coesione del sistema comunitario”, Venerdì 31 Ottobre 2014 presso la Sala Polifuzionale, Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Rome
I want to thank all participants for their contributions – they had been especially in their diversity a major challenge for me to think about the tasks ahead. The actual challenge is – another time – to overcome the contradiction between what we know and what we do. And it is probably correct to say that there is a general good will and acknowledgement of the virtues as we know them already since ancient times. And nevertheless we fail acting accordingly.
I will keep it short and will not develop the long story which we know from Pinocchio:
Pinocchio’s legs were so stiff that he could not move them, and Geppetto held his hand and showed him how to put out one foot after the other.
When his legs were limbered up, Pinocchio started walking by himself and ran all around the room. He came to the open door, and with one leap he was out into the street. Away he flew!
Of course, you may also refer to the work for instance of Max Weber, Niklas Luhmann and many others.
It seems today that we are facing a similar story: Europe had been established as system based on values as – amongst others – peace and justice. And now it seems to go entirely stray, following its own ways.
Already in the mid 1990s a large number of academics called for a focus on social quality as central parameter for future politics. In a declaration in Amsterdam it had been stated in 1997:
Respect for the fundamental human dignity of all citizens requires us to declare that we do not want to see growing numbers of beggars, tramps and homeless in the cities of Europe. Nor can we countenance a Europe with large numbers of unemployed, growing numbers of poor people and those who have only limited access to health care and social services. These and many other negative indicators demonstrate the current inadequacy of Europe to provide social quality for all its citizens. We want, in contrast, a European society that is economically successful, but which, at the same time, promotes social justice and participation for its citizens.
And actually there had been a very positive reception, the then commissioner for employment and social affairs highlighting the importance of focussing on social quality.
The two crucial points claimed had been the need to arrive at a policy design
- that accepts the complexity and interdependencies of society. This meant to overcome a departmentalised approach, aiming on a new integrity which is not subordinated under rules of a de-socialised model economics
- that goes beyond standard parameters of measuring economic success in quantitative terms, taking social quality as reference, and looking at peoples real and everyday’s life.
This merged in the claim concerned with politics, i.e. the need to develop policies beyond finding technical and short-term solutions.
I do not want to discuss the Lisbon strategy which stated in 2000
- The Union has today set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion
Leaving a structural analysis aside, THIS Europe had not been able to address the crisis, and actually it can be seen as part of a global political arena, leading straight into it, deepening and accelerating it. In actual fact we find today major challenges – most of them well-known and often discussed.
A major reason for the failing of the debates and analysis had been and is that the complexities and interdependencies had not been sufficiently considered: a matter of power, interests and of Pinocchio running his own way, even if they may have – or claim to have – the same vision.
Proposals for alternatives had been made from different sides, too often limited to models and dreams, simply based on abstract values. However, the reality needs to go beyond this. One of the major steps had been shown in November 2013, coming from an angle that had been perhaps unexpected by many, Pope Francis, writing about an economy that kills. More important than this statement had been another sentence in that paragraph, asking
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
- exorbitant growth of capital and productive potentials is going hand in hand with decreasing GDP and an increasing inequality instead of socio-economic security for all
- growth is translated into production of waste, speculation and privatisation of public goods – which translates into “values” equal “consumables” instead of providing a foundation for social cohesion
- employment is loosing its productive dimension – and also its function of “making a living”. Precarity is the norm instead of suggesting a new take on socially meaningful activities and cooperation that secures social inclusion
- migration is not a problem – though it is made being a problem as long as it is an answer to which individuals are forced by the externalisation of costs of production instead of seeing the major potential for social empowerment.
All this can be put into a nutshell – at least people living in Rome will understand immediately and others probably just have to replace the names of places and streets. And it is only a rephrasing of what Francis said:
How is it possible that we ignore the homeless people and “celebrate excessive consumerism”: go to Termini station at 4 o’clock in the morning – and in the afternoon have a look at excessive luxury on the Via dei Condotti and even the Via del Corso.
Indeed, all the answers will remain a torso as long as we do not manage to re-embed all policy areas into one guiding principle, that orient on
the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships.
The objective conditions of making use of the potentials will allow to translate social justice (equity), solidarity, equal valuation and human dignity, the normative factors presented in the framework of social quality, into meaningful parameters of an analytical tool and an instrument to systematically develop alternatives.
Urgently needed is in this light the confrontation of some major flaws of current politics:
Excessive cheap production and low fare trade, being a major feature of quantitative growth strategies are established on the strategies of sheep advertising and “low fair production”.
But we urgently need
- public responsibility
- solidarity enshrined in rights
- making people themselves the public
What else remains to be said? Since several years now there is a label on cigarette now: Smoking kills Perhaps we should think about this in connection with the words of Pope Francis and public responsibility.
The EU has to refocus policies: instead of adjoining welfare policies to a growth oriented strategy of competitiveness, policies have to be focused on the social as people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships in everyday’s life as the true aim of policy making.
National governments have to commit themselves to the same goal, strongly considering their action as part of their global responsibility.
Municipalities and Regional Bodies
It is necessary to orient local and regional policies on strategies that take overall sustainability into account, and allow for participative approaches that foster the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment.
It is necessary to develop new understandings of syndicalism, thoroughly analysing the critical developments on labour markets and in society, putting more emphasis on the representation of men and women in atypical employment and the societal contributions made outside of labour markets.
The role of civil society is to provide a glue between the different levels and realms of society and to link particularistic interests into the wider context of an overall sustainable society
Interdisciplinary orientation cannot be a catchword alone but has to be implemented and a permanent guideline of academic world – be it in teaching or research. For this the academic world has to be open for heterodox approaches, a truly open debate and a non-competitive working climate that is rooted in discourse and exchange.
We as European Observatory on Social Quality commit ourselves
- to further elaborate the theory and practice,
- to contribute with concrete analysis of living conditions and daily life in a comprehensive understanding
- to develop a network of and link between academics, politicians and civil society
- to provide services that foster the overall aim of moving towards a society that is based in the orientation on overall sustainability and social cohesion.
The goal then will not be paradise – but a proper use of the resources we have.
 Pope Francis, 2013: Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to the Bishops, Clergy, consecrated persons and the Lay Faithful on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world; Città del Vaticano; Libreria Editrice Vaticana; http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html – 28/10/14
 van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan, 2012: Social Quality and Sustainability; in: Van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan (eds.): Social Quality. From Theory to Indicators: Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; 250-274; here: 260