Position:Vladimir Spidla

"The European Social Model is essential to any European democracy", Mr Spidla said in delivering the Lisbon Council's 2005 Jean Jacques Rousseau Lecture, which forms part of an ongoing 'Modernising the European Social Model Initiative' the non-profit pressure group launched last autumn. "If Europe has prospered in the last six decades, it's not in spite of the European social model, but because of it ... and if we were to turn our backs on it we would loose our competitiveness".

In terms of making any concrete new proposals to signal a paradigm shift at EU level on social policy, which it primarily guides via the so-called open method of coordination, Mr Spidla also clearly indicated that nothing to this effect was in the policy pipeline. Speaking in response to one of several questions from a small group of EU officials and journalists who attended the talk, Mr Spidla referred to a famous Czech novel considered one of the greatest war satires ever written - "The Good Soldier Svejk", by Jaroslav Hasek. "A particular character in this novel could predict things before they happened", Mr Spidla said with a wry grin. And so it was with the French and Dutch referendums, he added: "We could predict all these events based on an analysis of several facts. So there is no reason why we should change the social agenda based on the developments of the past few weeks".

Still a social superpower.

Mr Spidla also called for more optimism and a greater acceptance of change in the 'old' EU15. "I consider it my duty to warn against the all-embracing pessimism that is particularly prevalent in certain old member states", he said. "It would be dangerous to consider the current situation in certain member states an immutable status quo. We cannot accept 17 million unemployed, average economic growth of 0.6% in the old member states and youth unemployment of 18.6% in the 25-member EU". He also stressed that the European social model is part of what makes Europe great: "We are a global superpower". In this vein, he added, Europe should not jettison its tried and trusted social model in the name of becoming more globally competitive. It should, by contrast, seize an international leadership role on social policy, just as it has done in the field of environmental policy, for instance via the Kyoto Protocol. "It's not just a question of the impact of global changes on Europe, it's a question of Europe's responsibility for global development", he said.

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