WP 74 - Flexibility and security: an asymmetrical relationship?
Abstracth2. Introduction Against a background of growing international competition and of pervasive uncertainty and fluidity, flexicurity policies are being actively promoted in the EU policy agenda as a useful policy tool to address the needs of business to respond to rapid changes, while providing workers with a safety net. On one hand, businesses need to be able to adjust to new challenges and improve their competitiveness. On the other, the European social model needs to be reinforced and provide workers with protection, but also opportunities, in a volatile and threatening environment. The flexicurity model seems to provide the link between these seemingly incompatible goals. However, some critical questions arise as to the universal relevance of this model: The aim of this work is to address the above questions, as well as to shed some light on four particular aspects of the flexicurity agenda and the concurrent debate: Special attention in this paper is devoted to the question whether flexicurity policies can be successfully promoted in a national context characterised by segmented labour markets and widespread atypical and often unregulated employment, sub-protective welfare systems, a weak social consultation tradition, and the defensive responses of business to the challenges of globalisation. To this end, a considerable part of the work compares the experience of adopting flexibility and security measures in 4 EU countries (chosen on the basis of their distinct employment and welfare regimes and their vastly different degree of endorsement of flexicurity policies in their national policy agendas): 2 success stories – Denmark and the Netherlands- on one hand, and 2 reluctant supporters- Spain and Greece- on the other. The purpose of this comparative approach is to highlight the importance of institutional factors, as well as the (often under-estimated) key role of social attitudes and norms, in determining the direction and outcome of particular welfare and labour market initiatives. The first 5 sections of this work provide an overview of the main components of the flexicurity policy agenda, as spelled out in detail by the EU documents and as implemented on the terrain in the two success stories, Denmark and the Netherlands. Sections 6, 7 and 8 attempt a comparative analysis of the impact of the national context (economic, social, institutional and cultural) on the outcome of the flexicurity agenda in the 4 countries under consideration. Finally, section 9 discusses the main findings of the report and questions the relevance of the flexicurity agenda in times of growing uncertainty and global economic crisis.