COMECE REPORT: In response to the economic and financial crisis currently hitting Europe, the COMECE Bishops propose that the Common Market evolves towards the concept of a Social Market Economy in order for the EU to become a viable ‘Community of Solidarity and Responsibility’.
By means of this Statement, which will be unveiled on 12 January 2012 in Brussels, the Bishops of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), offer a commentary on the concept of “a highly competitive social market economy”, which has become one of the treaty objectives of the European Union since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.
As a formulation, the concept is used most often in German-speaking countries, but it has also entered the constitutional traditions of other EU States, such as Poland. It usually means: wide-ranging freedom of the market associated with the instruments of the competitive economy together with the principle of solidarity and its mechanisms for the promotion of greater social equality, i.e. far-reaching social protection on the part of the State. However, this concept still needs to be fleshed out and made more specific. This is the purpose of the Statement.
After recalling the cultural background of the Social Market Economy, the Statement of the COMECE Bishops underlines first of all the importance of ‘gift’ and ‘reciprocity’ in the Social Market Economy. “The institutions corresponding to the free form of solidarity – mutual associations, cooperatives and self-governing municipal bodies – and other forms of the social economy and ethical investments, therefore demand to be given particular attention in building a European social market economy” p.13
Competitiveness and Responsibility
The market is not inherently anti-social. Ordered in the right way it can be a place for interactions that create relationships. The Statement recalls in particular the positive role of Competition in the Social Market Economy: “Monopolies, cartels, price-rigging and the distortion of competition through the abuse of economic power or public aid must be combated effectively or prevented by the legislative and executive branches of the European Union” p.14. However, the Bishops condemn an economy which aims solely at the accumulation of profit “This vision threatens to overshadow the social and ecological dimensions of quality of life, which often cannot be directly expressed in monetary terms, and ignores the impact of economic activity on others, especially the generations to come” p. 15. The Bishops remind us that “With regard to the supply of vital goods and public services in particular, public authorities have a formal obligation” and they call on the EU to adopt “an appropriate regulation of public services, and social services in particular, in the common European market” p.17. Finally, “It is the consumers who ultimately dictate the direction of economic activity to a great extent through their consumer habits, both in Europe and globally. Every economic decision has a moral consequence. Here, too, the Church seeks to play its part”p.18.
In this area, the Bishops call for a reallocation of responsibilities between the European Union and the Member States “in the European social market economy social protection is put in place to fill this gap so that a dignified standard of living can be guaranteed to all citizens. This can no longer be the concern of the Member States alone, but must also be a concern of the European Union”p.19. Concerning social partners, the Bishops invite “the European institutions, in a time of crisis and sometimes difficult adjustments, to create the conditions that will enable social dialogue between European partners to play the role assigned to it in the European treaties” and they recall that the recent conclusion of the “Pact for the Euro”, may lead “to align taxation policy and social policy in the direction of greater justice” p.20.
For a sustainable development
The Statement firmly calls for respect for the economic and ethical principle of sustainability. “Without a systematic integration of ecological factors, neither economic competitiveness nor social justice can be achieved in the long run” p.22. The Bishops call for a specific commitment and an institutional guarantee for sustainability, not just at European level but also at the global level.
The COMECE Bishops call on the EU to commit to the development in the long term of “a true world political authority” which, together with economic ingenuity, should show due regard for the principles of justice and ecological responsibility. They conclude that “Today, the social market economy needs be spread across Europe, so that it may survive the challenge of global competition, and in order to be able to continue offering the most vulnerable in our midst effective social protection, and in order to be sustainable, given the requirements of environmental and climatic protection. To make the social market economy a reality in the European Union, we need a community of solidarity and responsibility. With solidarity and responsibility, we Europeans will also succeed in mastering the present difficult crisis and walking together on our common path and, in the end, demonstrating peace and justice to all people throughout the world” p.24