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European Union--example of good practice in the area of regional social policy.

1. Introduction--What is regional social policy?

The simplest answer to the question: "Why is there need for regional development policy" would be that it arises from the necessity to correct regional disparities, in terms of level of development (1).

First we should clarify why is there need for "regional policies" and this answer is found structured in the professional literature. Among the most frequent explanations we find the following aspects:

1. Uniformization of "unfair" space distribution of incomes (equity or justice argument).

2. Facilitation of problem solving coping with economies suffering major changes or economic shocks.

3. Increase of well-being as a result of activation of previously unused production factors.

4. Optimization of spatial allocation of production (2).

The answer to the question why is there need for "European regional policy" we find it also in the professional literature:

1. The argument of "solidarity" or "financial targets": As the poor member states are not able to solve regional issues on their own, the EU must provide them the necessary resources.

2. The argument "effects of integration": Because the benefits of integration are not uniformly distributed in the EU, there is need for a mechanism of redistribution.

3. The argument "owner's interest": Solving regional issues of a member state will also be beneficial for other member states.

4. The argument "effects of other EU policies": Given that the regional benefits of other policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are not evenly distributed, countries with losses should be rewarded by the EU regional policies (3).

In the last two decades the European Union has promoted "major structural changes in the economic, political, social area" (4) and also an intense political and economic integration among the regions of Europe, acting in ways that go beyond borders. The Commission's promotion of the concept "Europe of Regions" was particularly important, acting politically as a means of direct interaction with local and regional governments rather than national ones, using an approach based on subsidiarity more than sovereignty.

In addition, the European Commission has been active in trying to identify and really give rise to new transnational "regions" to create new territorial ties within the European continent. The Commission provides funding for a number of transnational, border programs to support those regional approaches (5).

Regional Social Policies can be seen as an extension of national social policies and should correspond to the national objectives of social policies.

"Regional social policies approach aspects which benefit from border intergovernmental cooperation in fields of activity like:

* Regional mechanisms of social redistribution: represented by transfers between regions in development funds and can be used in disadvantaged areas.

* Regional regulations: represent the regulations on areas such as health and labor to fight illegal intra-regional activities, but also regulations on private social services and utilities. The basic idea is that regional institutions have more information than governments to make a negotiation with private providers.

* Regional cross-border investments: These can be used for various common regional priorities related to social policies. An example of this would be to avoid the spread of diseases beyond the borders of a country.

* Regional mechanisms that give citizens the right to report the violation of their rights: These mechanisms are the Court of Justice of the European Union or the European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe.

* Regional Technical Cooperation in social policies: These offer the opportunity to learn from examples of good practice that have worked locally and develop innovative solutions" (6).

Regional social policies can be defined in a simple way as being public strategies (actions, legislation, institutions, strategies, programs, projects) regionally developed, oriented towards social welfare, being used to generate economic growth, to correct territorial disparities in terms of level of development and meet explicit social objectives and needs.

2. International experience

Regional and sub-regional formations with integrationist nature appeared after World War II, with the aim to harmonize their economic policies and ensure the free movement of goods, services, capital and manpower. Regional trade agreements represent that kind of arrangements that are made between various regional groups or between developed and developing countries. There are different types of agreements, some being represented by simple forms aiming trade in goods and services, while others are integration agreements, aiming at broad areas of coverage, such as mutual recognition, free movement of goods, persons and investments.

In 2010, according to the World Trade Organization (7) there were 288 "regional trade agreements (bilateral or plurilateral free trade areas, customs unions, economic integration agreements, preferential trade agreements), that are made between 150 countries in all continents".

Many states are part of several regional formations. For example, the United States of America are members of Free Trade Area of the Americas, North American Free Trade Agreement and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Often, countries build agreements with other countries located in same political geographical region, but there are also agreements between different regions such as North America and South America or the Asia-Pacific area.

These formations are created mostly just as pure trade agreements of various types and their purpose is not one of social development. Very few of them have developed transnational social projects. Apart from the European Union (which has developed social standards and in the labor market and regional methods of redistribution through its structural and cohesion funds), most regional formations limit their collaboration in social policy to an activity that involves little more than the implementation of minimum social legislationnecessary in order to facilitate cross-border mobility of manpower required for economic integration. Notable among these measures there are:

"--partial or complete removal of the requirements to get a SADC (Southern African Development Community), CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and SAARSC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Association for Regional Cooperation in South Asia) employment visa;

--mutual recognition of professional and educational qualifications and educational institutions--MERCOSUR (El Mercado del Sur Community--The South American Common Market), SAARC (The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and ANZCERTA (Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement);

--cross-border social security rights (CARICOM, MERCOSUR, ANZCERTA)" (8).

In 2007, Bob Deacon, Isabel Ortiz and Sergei Zelenev, in the paper "Regional Social Policy" published by the United Nations-Department of Economic and Social Affairs, have described the most important regional formations, with impact in the area of regional social policy. From the authors' point of view, these formations are (9):

--the European Union,

--ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nation),

--ALBA (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas),

--AU (The African Union),

--CAN (The Andrean Community of Nations),

-CAFTA-DR (Central America Free Trade Agreement--The Dominican Republic),

--SAARC (The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation),

--CARICOM (Caribbean Community),

--SADC (The Southern Africa Development Community),

--MERCOSUR (El Mercado Comundel Sur-The South American Common Market),

--LAS (The League of Arab States).

3. The European Union--example of good practice in the area of regional social policy

"The European Union is a political, social, cultural and economical entity which has a strategic influence in the globalization movement" (10).

The European Union is the most advanced form of regional integration and in the area of social policy the European construction has made major progresses in three areas: social redistribution, social regulation and social rights.

There was created a complex mechanism for the allocation of EU funds for the development of areas that have a precarious economic and social situation. Also there is a legislation that must be followed by all member states and that regulates a variety of social areas such as: medical services, labor security, equal opportunities, social security and pensions.

The harmonization of legal regulations and national social standards is a prerequisite for a country to be a member of the European Union (11).

3.1. European actors involved in regional social policies

The main European actors involved in the decision and implementation process of regional social policy are represented by the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the European Investment Bank, supported in their activity by the EU agencies and an equal number of social partners.

* European Commission

The European Commission is also called "union government" and Jacques Delors argued that it is where original ideas meet with the knowledge and experience of experts who, passing through their catalyst, take the form of concrete proposals of normative acts for the Council (12).

It is important to mention that the term "Commission" means both the college of commissioners, as well as the officials in Brussels that fulfill the Commission's services (13).

The European Commission is responsible for creating and ensuring the implementation of social policies through the Directorate General for Employment and Social Affairs. The Commission's role is to initiate legislative acts including in the area of social policies and to ensure that these taken measures will be implemented by all member states. In the work that it has, the Directorate General collaborates with the Directorate General of Environment and the Directorate General for Regional Development (14).

For structuring the policies made on inclusion, employment and social affairs both at EU level and for the states that are members, the European Commission:

* monitors and coordinates national policies;

* develops laws and monitors the implementation of such legislative acts in areas such as social security system coordination and rights at the place of work;

* supports the idea of exchange of good practices in areas such as fighting poverty, pensions, employment, fighting social exclusion (15).

One of the important administrative functions of the Commission is that it manages the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the Guarantee and Endowment Fund for Agriculture.

* European Parliament

The European Parliament, also called "the people's voice", represents the nations of the European Union and expresses the will of the Europeans within the European Union and the world. Unlike national parliaments, MEPs are elected by the people of a state or a unique nation and don't have all the powers reserved to a legislative body. Here comes the first democratic deficit because Parliament has only the role of co-legislative body to the Council of the EU (16). Today, the European Parliament exerts important legislative, budgetary and supervision attributions (17).

In the decision making process the European Parliament is involved through the Committee on employment and social affairs, which have responsibilities regarding various aspects related to social policy and employment policy (18).

* European Union Council

The Council was called the Special Ministerial Council, the Council of Ministers, and now, since 1993, it is called the "European Union Council" (19). Hayes-Renshaw states that although the Council is the intergovernmental EU institution "par excellence", it is in reality "a unique mix between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism" (20). The EU Council shares power between countries, between different categories of interests and stakeholders, as well as between national, mainly EU, levels of governance (21). The Council meeting in Foreign Ministers is called "General Council" and has the attribution to coordinate the activity of the "Special Councils", which are formed by bringing together the ministers. Since 2002 there are nine special councils, plus the General Council.

One of the nine Special Councils is the "Council on Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Protection", which deals with issues related to employment, social protection, consumer protection, health and equality of chances.

"The Council has a role in the adoption of the European norms for the harmonization of national legislation or their coordination, particularly with regard to labor conditions (health and safety of workers, social security, employee participation in the companies' management), strengthening the national policies for the prevention and control of diseases, the great scourges and protection of consumer rights.

Since employment and social policies remain the responsibility of member states, the Community's contribution is limited to setting common goals for all member states, analyzing the measures taken at national level and adopting recommendations for the member states" (22).

One of the major attributions of the Commission is the coordination of general economic policies of member states (23).

* European Economic and Social Committee

The European Economic and Social Committee is a consultative body that supports the work of the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission, thus being a secondary or assistance organ. By means of the Treaty of Nice, the Committee reached the level of "institutional representative of the European organized civil society" (24).

Engaged in the European integration, the EESC contributes to the consolidation of democratic legitimacy and the efficiency of the European Union, allowing civil society organizations in the member states to express their points of view at European level. This committee fulfills three key missions:

--helps to standardize European policies and legislation in line with the real economic, social and civic situations by assisting the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission;

--promotes the development of a more participatory European Union, that is more in touch with popular opinion, acting as an institutional forum that represents, informs, expresses points of view and ensures dialogue with the organized civil society;

--promotes the values on which the European integration is based and advances, in Europe and around the world, the cause of democracy and participatory democracy, as well as the role of civil society organizations.

* Committee of the Regions (art. 305-307 TFUE)

Committee of the Regionsis a consultative bodyon issues of the local and regional communities established by the Maastricht Treaty, but which only works since 1994. This Committee represents the regional and local bodies and was established to fight the idea that the European Union was becoming too centralized (25).

Currently, the Committee of the Regions has 353 members, elected local and regional representatives of the 28 EU member states and consists of 6 committees with competence in various political areas, based on EU treaties.

One of these commission is the Commission on Economic and Social Policy (ECOS).

"This Commission is responsible for coordinating the Committee's work on employment, social protection, gender equality, unique market, entrepreneurship policy, innovation and economic and monetary policy" (26).

* European Investment Bank

The European Investment Bank is an union institution with its own legal personality and has as main task (art. 309 TFEU) to contribute to the balanced and steady development of the internal market in the EU's interest, using its own resources and capital markets.

Investment support of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the engine of the European economy, is one of the key priorities of the European Investment Bank.

"It supports projects that make a significant contribution to economic growth, employment, economic and social cohesion and environmental sustainability in Europe and beyond" (27).

The main mission of the European Investment Fund is to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs in Europe), helping them to access finance. To this end, the satisfaction of current and future market needs to design innovative financial products for the partners (banking institutions, securities, leasing and microfinance, private capital funds and venture capital funds), which act as intermediaries (28).

* Other bodies of the European Union

--European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

--European Agency for Safety and Healthat Work

* Social partners

Besides these community bodies, an important role in creating the framework for social policies is held by the social partners, which are represented by the Union of Employers in the European Community (UNICE), the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Centre for Public Enterprise (CEEP). These actors are involved in the process of social dialogue and represent employers, employees and at the same time the sector of liberal professions (29).

3.2. Instruments of the European Union in the area of regional social policy

Fritz von Nordheim Nielsen, an expert in social protection, in the European Commission, Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said that the EU social policy consists of a set of tools that have been developed over time and which act in those sectors that affect or generate the degree of individual and social wellbeing, thus distinguishes three important tools in achieving the social Europe: EU political instruments, EU legal instruments in the area of social policy and the EU financial instruments (30).

* The EU Political instruments in the area of social policy are considered to be Lisbon Agenda, Europe 2020 and the European Employment Strategy; Social Agenda and Social Protection/Social inclusion process and Social dialogue.

* The main legal instruments of the European Union in the area of social policy, are: the coordination of social security systems; free movement of workers; the coordination of social security systems; labor law; safety and security; gender equality; anti-discrimination. The European construction is based on multiple legal rules and any EU measure derives from the treaties that have been voluntarily and democratically approved by all member countries and the objectives set out in the treaties are achieved through several types of legislative acts. These legislative documents include regulations, directives, recommendations and endorsements, some mandatory, others not and apply to all countries or just to some of them.

* The Financial instruments in the area of social policies support investments through loans, guarantees, equity investments and other risk-bearing mechanisms, including political guarantees for the "European Social Fund, which can be combined with interest rate subsidies or contributions to the guarantee fees within the same operation.

The structures for implementing them involve extra expertise and "know-how" that contribute to the growth of efficiency and effectiveness of public resource allocation. Moreover, these tools provide a various range of incentives to improve performance, including greater financial discipline in the supported projects" (31).

According to Fritz von Nordheim Nielsen, the most important financial instruments in the social policy area are the European Social Fund, PROGRESS and the European Globalization Fund.

The main instrument of the cohesion policy in the EU is the system of structural funds. Since 1975 the European Union runs a robust regional policy, transferring funds from member states that are richest to the poorest through structural funds.

The main structural instruments: Structural Funds, the Cohesion Fund and the Solidarity Fund.

In addition to these instruments, the European Union has also created a smaller scale instruments that are intended to support projects in priority areas such as education, research, environment, community development (Community Initiatives).

* The Structural funds consisting of financial contributions from the member states in proportion to their level of development, are redistributed according to a comprehensive regulatory framework towards countries or regions of the European Union which remained at a low level of socio-economic development.

The 4 structural funds are:

--European Social Fund (ESF), established in 1960 (is the main tool of social policy of the European Union). It was created to prevent and fight unemployment, support training, re-training of manpower and reintegration of young people into the labor market.

--Regional Development Fund (ERDF), established in 1975 (specific support tool in the area of regional development). The European Regional Development Fund was created to reduce regional imbalances. This fund was created on the principle of co-financing from local budgets, central budget, private sector and international funding agencies.

--European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund--Guidance Section (EAGGF-O), established in 1960 (the main financial instrument of the Community agricultural policy).

--Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG), established in 1993 (to finance projects in the fields of environment and trans-European networks associated to transport infrastructures).

* The Cohesion Fund is that financial instrument supporting investments in transport, energy and environment infrastructure.

The Cohesion Fund is the one that comes to co-finance national major projects on trans-European transport and environment networks and thus allows the costs of these works not influence the national budgetary efforts to satisfy the requirements of the economic and monetary union. Furthermore, the Fund helps these countries to achieve the standards required by European norms in these areas. The Cohesion Fund, compared to the Structural Funds, doesn't co-finance programs, but only projects or stages of projects which are well established from the beginning. These projects are presented to the European Commission by the states. The projects are managed by national authorities and are supervised by the Monitoring Committee.

* The European Union Solidarity Fund is a regional policy fund, set up in November 2002, after the floods that affected France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. The objective of this fund is to facilitate the expression of EU solidarity with the population of a member or acceding state, which has been affected by a major natural disaster (32).

Cristina ILIE GOGA, University of Craiova, Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, Sociology Specialization


(1) Lucian Pop, Dezvoltare regionala in Luana Miruna Pop(coord.), Dictionar de politici sociale, Ed. Expert, Bucuresti, 2002, p. 255.

(2) Reiner Martin, The Regional Dimension in European Public Policy. Convergence or Divergence?, MacMillan Press LTD, London, 1999, p. 71.

(3) Ibidem, pp. 73-74.

(4) Andreea Mihaela Nita, Cultural consumption of urban population in todayss Romanian society Comparative study communism-post-communism, in Revista de Stiinte Politice, no. 33-34, 2012, p. 70.

(5) Graham Haughton, David Counsell, Regions, Spatial Strategies and sustainable development, Routledge, Londra, 2004, p. 5.

(6) Bob Deacon, Isabel Ortiz, Sergei Zelenev, Regional Social Policy, DESA Working paper, no.37, New York, 2007, pp. 3-4.

(7) World Trade Organization,

(8) Nicola Yeates, Globalization and Social Policy in a Development Context. Regional responses, Social policy and development programme, Paper no. 18, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, April 2005, p. 7.

(9) Bob Deacon, Isabel Ortiz, Sergei Zelenev, Regional Social Policy, DESA Working paper, no.37, New York, 2007.

(10) Ionut Serban, Florian Olteanu, The birth of the E.U. Historiographical and political aspects regarding the period 1945-1970, in Revista de Stiinte Politice, no. 21-22, 2009, pp. 36-41.

(11) Bob Deacon, Isabel Ortiz, Sergei Zelenev, op. cit., pp. 14-15.

(12) Gyula Fabian, Drept institutional al Uniunii Europene, Ed. Hamangiu, Bucharest, 2012,p. 162.

(13) Paul Craig, Grainne de Burca, Dreptul Uniunii Europene. Comentarii, jurispudenta si doctrina. Editia a IV-a, Ed. Hamangiu, Bucharest, 2009, p. 49.

(14) Jorge Martinez-Vazquez, Francois Vaillancourt, Regional development. Challenge for public policy, in Jorge Martinez-Vazquez, Francois Vaillancourt, Public Policy for Regional Development, Ed. Routledge, New York, 2008, pp. 11-12.

(15) European Commission,

(16) Gyula Fabian, op. cit.,p. 169.

(17) Paul Craig, Grainne de Burca, op. cit., p. 73.

(18) Daniela Varjan, Uniunea Europeana dimensiunea sociala, in Economie si politici sociale, Cap VII, pp. 11-12, in 4f14117623864e2d25ab77f02.pdf

(19) Gyula Fabian, op. cit.,p. 154.

(20) John Peterson, Michael Shackleton, The Institutions of the European Union, Ed.2, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, p. 78.

(21) Fiona Hayes-Renshaw, Helen Wallace, The Council of Ministers, Ed 2, Palgrave, Hampshire, 2006, p. 321.

(22) Council of the European Union,,-social-policy,-health-and-consumer affairs.aspx?lang=en.

(23) Gyula Fabian, op. cit,p. 158.

(24) Ibidem, p. 209.

(25) Paul Craig, Grainne de Burca,op. cit, p. 98.

(26) Committee of Regions,

(27) Dagmar Schiek, Economic and Social Integration: The Challenge for EU Constitutional Law, Edward Elgar Publishing, Massachusetts, 2012.

(28) European Investment Fund, we do/index.htm.

(29) Daniela Varjan,op.cit., pp. 9-11.

(30) Fritz von Nordheim Nielsen, The European Social Model(s) and the EU contribution and the EU contribute, European Commission Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.

(31) Gabriela Carmen Pascariu, Politici europene--Suport de curs, Universitatea Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Iasi, Centrul de Studii Europene, curs/II Politici%20europene.pdf.

(32) Institutul European din Romania, Politica de dezvoltare regionala, 2003, p.10, regionala.pdf
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Title Annotation:ORIGINAL PAPER
Author:Ilie Goga, Cristina
Publication:Revista de Stiinte Politice
Article Type:Author abstract
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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