Jean Paul Révauger
UMR Europe Européanité Européanisation
Université de Bordeaux III.
The ambiguities of « cohesion ».
The central concepts used in public discourse vary not only across time, but also across borders. Just because we call them “concepts structurants” in French, does not necessarily mean that their value is universal. It is often the case that different words, or, worse, different ideas, concepts or even values and policies are used in different countries, at a given time. They are structural equivalents, in the sense that they perform the same task in steering societies one way or another, justifying evolutions or policies. But, because the cultural subsoil is different, different words and ideas have to be used, sometimes to justify similar policies. “Ethics” and “fairness” are music to the ears of the British, when “equality” chimes with the French. Naturally, the threat of essentialism is something we must be aware of. Societies change over time, borrow concepts from each other, and are the seat of contradictions. Government experts occasionally read books and foreign newspapers, even though most of what they read tend to be in English, or in Globish, and a fuzzy use of concepts seems to prevail. Within societies themselves, different interpretations contend with each other, as political and social forces vie for influence. Studying concepts and even buzz words is therefore a tricky exercise. The relationship between spin, “communication”, and ideas is complex.
To make matters worse, the dual impact of globalization and Europeanization, which might or might not be distinct phenomena, collides with national cultures, and even with sectional cultures within nations. Different words are used at national and European level, and the global concepts have a real but uneven impact on local languages and mentalities. This is quite irrespective of the merits of the policies under consideration . Our first duty as language and civilization specialists is to be aware of this and have a clear realization of the different meanings of words, even when they are as badly translated as the “poverty trap” or “path dependency”, or even welfare dependency”. Every French citizen who has tried to explain what we mean by laïcité to an English audience in less that 30 minutes is aware of the fact that translating it by “secularism” is less than helpful, and, at worst, is misleading .
This contentious use of ideas and words is particularly evident when difficult issues are under consideration. There is little debate about the use of words when technical affairs are discussed. However, when it comes to thorny issues such as poverty, the distribution of incomes and resources, and the social impact of economic policies, in other words social citizenship and “class”, societies on the one hand and European institutions on the other hand face a difficult intellectual task: what concepts and ideas are to be used ? Such issues are directly impacted by the most mobile and the most universal of human inventions, money, which circulates freely within the EU, and whose use is carefully facilitated, monitored and, to some extent, regulated, not in order to reduce exchanges, but, on the contrary, to accelerate them. The Jean Monnet method , adopted after the demise of political strategies towards European integration , such as the Council of Europe, the European Defence Community, encouraged Europeans to achieve economic unity first, and to build common political approaches on this solid foundation. This was certainly very successful, but the method itself had an in-built drawback; considering that economics had priority and that social considerations came second. The relative lack of interest for “social Europe” stems from this priority given to economic management. This is all the more understandable, since, contrary to money, whose regulation obeys shared rules and carefully worded legal procedures, national attitudes towards the “social question”, or “social citizenship” vary widely across the EU.  Attitudes towards social issues, within European nations are shaped by ethical, political, religious factors, as well as by haphazard historical phenomena which have nothing to do with culture, such as the outcome of wars. They can indeed change over time, but the background is always there, giving words a particular tinge.
The three ages of cohesion.
Three stages can be identified in Euro parlance when it comes to social citizenship, and , more precisely, to poverty.
The first period was opened in the late 1980’s, and dominated by concepts borrowed from France, those of exclusion and inclusion. This period saw the arrival of mass unemployment , and of long term unemployment in the industrial heartlands, such as the North and East of France, and the UK. Clearly, France invented the RMI in 1988 in order to meet a need. The traditional insurance-based system of unemployment insurance no longer functioned, and chômeurs en fin de droits, who had exhausted their rights after two years on the dole, needed the new universal benefit, the RMI. Intellectually, the source of inspiration was a Catholic NGO, ATD, whose leader, a priest, wrote the famous report which provided the basis for this policy. France was run by a socialist President, François Mitterrand, who needed a policy distinct from the redistributive egalitarian measures demanded by the Trade Unions and a section of the French left, and from the rather punitive and insensitive policies advocated by the Right. Thatcherism, although it had lost a lot of steam in Britain, and was extremely unpopular in Europe, was still adamant that welfare dependency was the number one scourge, and that the poor should be encouraged to change their ways, for their own good, and shun the “culture of poverty” which dragged them down. Continental conservatism considered this with a mixture of admiration and awe. Catholic influence within European conservatives was far from negligible, and more humane approaches were favoured by many.
The relationship between French socialists and the traditional French approach, based on equality, was more complex. In the last decade of the cold war, the idea that a final push against communism was necessary was welcomed. This would be the case both at the diplomatic and geopolitical level, but also, less understandably, on the domestic and ideological plane. Policies associated to the Communist party were therefore to be abandoned, irrespective of their merits or faults. Redistribution, and a focus on inequality were a case in point. The French socialist party therefore accepted and promoted a largely catholic approach to the social question, which, is, historically, ironical, given the anti clerical past of French socialism. The rise of inequality in France, and the erosion of the power of the wage earning classes were one of the key features of the 1980s and 1990s. 
The concepts of cohesion and exclusion, at the time, were mostly used in reference to economic inequalities. It had no particular implications from an ethnic point of view. Economic citizenship concerned all nationals, whatever their cultural or ethnic backgrounds. However, in terms of the relationship between ethnicity and citizenship, the situation changed in the 1980’s. Until then, immigrants had mostly been single males, clearly identified as foreigners, living in Sonacotra Halls of residence. Family reunion and the birth of children on French soil resulted in an increasing number of economically deprived French citizens with a North African ethnic background. The connection between ethnicity and economic deprivation started then. Family reunion and the change in the numbers and status of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants coincided with the crisis, and the rise of long term unemployment . This led to a political construction of immigration and family reunion and the rise of the far right, which became a significant political force in the late 1980’s. By and large, French institutions and political parties, except the far right, maintained the republican discourse, and refused the legal recognition of cultural and ethnic difference. This deliberate colour blindness represented the main ideological bulwark against the far right, and was a legacy of the legislation passed in 1945. It was rejected and violently criticized, in the UK, by the proponents of British multiculturalism, which only started declining after the Rushdie affair and its horrendous consequences in 1989. The relative moderation of British multiculturalists in the 21st century stands in stark contrast against the excesses of the 1980’s. Secular and colour blind France was presented at the time as a unredeemable, assimilationist, authoritarian and arrogant country.
This period was also the apex of French influence in the European Commission, whose President was Jacques Delors, François Mitterrand’s former Minister for Finance, the chief architect of the turn to austerity in 1983, a member of the French socialist party and a militant catholic. The discourse on inclusion and exclusion had the same function for European institutions as for the French Socialists. It enabled them to occupy the commanding heights of social debates, by remaining impeccably distinct from communist of even Marxist approaches, but also from the Thatherite hard-faced men, and women. This inclusive discourse, which paved the way for “cohesion based approaches” was welcomed in the’ UK by the social policy community, which was largely hostile to Thatcherite policies, and by the left in general. The rare sight of Jacques Delors, a French catholic socialist and president of the Commission, being welcomed to the tune of Frere Jacques by the TUC symbolized the pro European turn of the British Left, but also explains it. The EU represented a more humane, social democratic option, or model, than that promoted by the British conservatives since 1979.
One nation Europe: the 1990’s and the march to Lisbon 2000.
The term “cohesion” was used throughout the 1990’s in Europe, but less so in the UK, even though, in practice, “one nation” inclusive type of policies gradually seeped back into the system, and public discourse. The favoured term in the UK was not cohesion, but “community”. The difference between continental Europe and the UK in this respect is quite understandable.
On the one hand, continental Europeans, in particular in France, but also outside France were influenced by Durkheim’s sociology. Durkheim, at the turn of the 20th century, considered that solidarity was necessary to society, and that the increasing complexity and division of labour put solidarities at risk. Therefore, special attention ought to be devoted to the nurturing of cooperation and to social integration. His views on individualism were far too critical to cut much ice in the English speaking world, where the harnessing of individual selfishness is believed to lead to the common good, if one follows the liberal logic. This was quite compatible with the social doctrine of the catholic Church . Two years before Durkheim’s first major book, De la division du Travail social, Pope Leon XIII had published an Encyclique, Rerum Novarum  , which is considered as the cornerstone of social Catholicism, and condemned individualism as well as socialism. It ran with the spirit of the times.
This met the need of political forces which competed with socialist parties, and later with communism, for the heart and soul of the working classes. Conservatives, in continental Europe, were often to be found among the architects of the welfare state, Bismarck being a case in point. This is not the case in the English speaking world.
The other reason “cohesion” was not included among the buzz words of domestic political discourse in the UK is that its function was fulfilled by another term, community. The first asset of the term was its origin: It came from the USA, rather than from continental Europe, and it was therefore at an advantage. Supposedly progressive policies imported from the US do not bear the stigma of a continental association with catholicism or communism, or some other ideological Trojan horse. In the US, the opposition between neo liberals and communitarians structured to some extent political debates in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s, the echos of this debate had reached the Scilly islands, and even Penzance, and the inspirer of New Labour, Anthony Giddens, proposed a synthesis between liberal principles, some would probably add, liberal commonplaces, and communitarianism. Communitarianism is a rather complex movement, and deserves a study on its own. In Giddens’s view, the all powerful, bureaucratic state of the past should be replaced by cooperative, local, community based ventures, and by private provision. The term “community” remained ambiguous in its use, referring either to a theoretical, rather abstract approach, favouring inclusion, to local government, or to ethnic communities. Its French translation, even though it is transparent, is misleading, since “communautarisme” is very negatively connotated, and refers to those practices and policies that encourage immigrants and French citizens descending from immigrants to keep themselves to themselves and refuse integration.
In any case, “cohesion” and “community” are two structural equivalents, even though their translation is misleading.
The term “community” or “community cohesion” often assumed in the English speaking world an ethnic dimension, and amounted to euphemisms. They were clearly “performative”, and indicated a need for more integration, and adjustment in policy.
In France, the concept of integration was used when referring to citizens with non European background. The ambiguities of French identity appeared quite clearly in the bizarre expression “immigrés de la deuxième génération”. Since children born on French soil obtained, at will, French nationality, they were certainly not “immigrants” in any sense of the word. Yet, the expression implied that their cultural and social integration was problematic in some cases, or at least could not be taken for granted. Two interpretations of French identity are therefore at work. The republican, colour blind culture blind definition recognizes as French anybody granted by law a French passport. It is therefore administrative. In the past, tens of thousands of people became French as the result of conquest or diplomacy.Yet, even in Renan’s words, “la volonté de vivre ensemble”, which defines national identity, implies a desire to share the basic political and cultural tenets of France. This includes today the separation between the spiritual and the temporal, the rule of law, equal rights for women, and the autonomy of individuals, including young adults. Cohesion and integration are only possible when the people concerned share such tenets. Beyond the legal arguments, this is the rationale behind the banning of the veil in schools and the burka in public space.
The heyday of “cohesion” type of discourses was indeed the year 2000, when the European union convened a meeting devoted to social policy, which determined the famous “Lisbon Agenda”. The Union adopted an approach to social policy which was directly inspired by New Labour, and by British approaches in general It promised, and established as a historical goal: “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, and respect for the environment”. Social policy and economic policies were to be carefully combined. Instead of seeing social policy as compensation for the forward march of capitalism, or as a kind of Red Cross tending the wounded and the sick after , and during the battle, social policy was to be enlisted, and considered as one of the chief ingredients for economic efficiency. Social policy should therefore be streamlined so as to encourage Europeans to change their ways, and behave in ways compatible with the needs of the new economy. This meant accepting the logic of employability, active labour market policies, flexible terms of employment, life long education, adaptation to the new technologies, concern for the environment, respect for the tenets of the free market, encouragement of labour mobility across borders, encouraging female participation in the labour force, and the banning of racism and of discriminations, which thwart competition. The objective of the new mode of production was clearly identified as cohesion and prosperity, even though competition with other nations was also mentioned. Once more, economic success and ethics were linked. There is a case for considering that modern Active Labour Maket Policies amount to a XX1st century version of the 19th liberal policies, when the New Poor Laws pushed the needy away from their villages and encouraged them to join the mass of industrial workers, and Samuel Smiles provided the ethical justifications . 
2000 was the apex of this positivistic discourse, and the Agenda was never implemented in full. A few months after Lisbon, the internet bubble exploded, heralding the collapse of stock markets. This was accelerated by the economic downturn following 9/11, which hit the real economy. 2008 , the subprime crisis and the collapse of Lheman Bothers drew the final nail into the coffin of speculative financial capitalism, as it had developed thanks to the deregulations imposed the Thatcherites and Reaganites in the 1980’s.
Adjusting to the crisis.
The first decade of the 21st century amounted to a slow descent into hell. A first interim report was produced by ex social democratic PM of the Netherlands Wim Kok in 2004. The author, a promoter of the “polder model”, stressed the fact European investment in R&D was lagging behind, which meant, that, in the medium term, Europe would not feature “the most competitive knowledge based economy”, since other regions were more dynamic. This hinted at the possibility of relative decline, vis a vis China or even the US. The solutions he advocated, one again, were , jointly more cohesion and more flexibility. The linkage between social citizenship and economic considerations was still very central. The promotion of European directives bearing on the labour market, and aiming to liberalize practices was given a fresh impetus, the ill fated Bolkestein directive on services and the directive on posted workers being cases in point. As we know, both directives seriously affected to confidence of the world of labour in the ability of the European Union to improve social conditions. The Bolkestein directive was even the main iceberg on which the Titanic of the European constitution , mark One, floundered in France in 2005. A close examination of the posted workers directive shows in fact that the European law makers probably took their task very seriously, and genuinely tried to foster cohesion and respect for what the French call “les acquis sociaux”, and the British do not call at all 
. The sheer complexity of labour practices in Europe combined with the liberal culture of the European Court of Justice, and led to unexpected results, since all cases were lost by Unions. The “directives” are never fool proof, and the way laws are interpreted depends on the political climate.
It became clear that labour market flexibility was perfectly in tune with the dominant political and ideological culture of the ruling elites, but that its imposition was in no way compensated by improvements in social services. The changes in the nature of European and world capitalism in the first decade of the century were only understood and taken on board when the whole system collapsed in 2008, only to be bailed out at considerable cost. The size of profits, the demands made by investors for return on capital investment, the uncontrollable character of financial exchanges, the complexity and opaque character of financial instruments are all the consequences of the deregulation of financial markets in the 1980’s and the total ideological domination of neo liberal thinking over conservative, and, to a large extend, social democratic parties. The rise of inequality throughout the developed world is well documented, whether one considers wage inequality, or inequality ion terms of property. Yet, this remained a moot point as long as the economy seemed to deliver the goods, unemployment was more or less under control.
As far as ethnic relations are concerned, they changed slowly in the 1990’s, and very rapidly in the first decade of the 21st century, after 9/11. Countries which had made experiments including a measure of multiculturalism, or even positive discrimination, such as Britain, and more dramatically, the Netherlands, moved away from this, sometimes surreptitiously, like the UK, sometimes through political traumas, like the Netherlands, where the rise of rabid Islamism and nonetheless rabid anti immigrant parties in the most tolerant country in Europe highlighted a deep questioning of national identity. The pressure of radical islamist networks in Algeria, terrorist attacks in France, the US, Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, placed European Muslims in a situation akin to that of Italians in France in the 1930s The existence of fascist 5th columns among Italian immigrants was a reality, in the same way as radical islamists recruit volunteers and burrow their way into Europe. However, this turns all Muslims into suspects and makes “cohesion” and integration particularly difficult, which again plays into the hands of extremists. Europe is therefore adopting a dual and somewhat contradictory stance. On the one hand it encourages the mobility of workers and internal migrations, on the other hand it tries to control the influx of Muslims, or Africans. Philosophical and economic liberalism require freedom of movement, security and the slow pace of integration command immigration controls and selectivity. Ethnic groups identified as problematic, whose economic and cultural integration is deemed difficult are sometimes stigmatized, as was the case in France with the Roma in 2010. Stigmatization by the President was clearly seen by official spin doctors as a means of regaining popularity, and only backfired thanks to European and domestic reactions. Clearly, cohesion is increasingly seen in France as applying only to citizens, or to legitimate prospective citizens.
The concept of cohesion fulfilled a new function. Together with the notion of fairness, or “équité”, it has come to represent a substitute for equality. At the European level, the division of labour between the European Union and the Council of Europe is a well known, if bizarre feature. From its inception, at an early stage in integration, the Council of Europe was deprived of real power, largely under the influence of the UK, wary of Pandora’s Boxes and their hoard of Trojan Horses, as Ernest Bevin put it. It became an intellectual power house for Europe, and a sources of inspiration for many individuals and currents. Ironically, the fact that its conclusions did not have force of law, but were purely indicative, with no binding power, gave it a free hand. In a large number of areas, the Council has deployed intellectual agility, making bold but carefully drafted suggestions, by passing objections, ignoring outdated customs, and hoping for the best. In a number of areas, Council of Europe charters have indeed become “soft law”, or standards which governments can ignore, but at a political cost. One should be very careful when trying to assess the real influence of the Council, since symbols and ideas are not negligible.
The notion of cohesion has become a favourite with the Council of Europe, and the bevy of experts, intellectuals, researchers that contribute to its brainpower. The Council acts in some ways as a large, public research centre. On the issue of cohesion, the Council has produced a massive amount of literature and mobilized resources bearing on education human rights . I even operates a directorate for social cohesion, employing a permanent staff of researchers. It is very much the case that the discourse on social cohesion creates employment. Cynicism is a natural reaction when economic policies leading directly to squalor, idleness, ignorance, disease and want are adopted by European governments and accompanied by the sweet tune of odes to social cohesion. Yet, the plot theory is probably too simple to be true. It is probably not the case that the enormous mass of documents synthesizing knowledge on cohesion and well being is deliberately collated for purely cosmetic reasons, as a placebo, or to keep a tiny idealistic flame alive. The Council of Europe and the carefully selected mandarins who man the boat certainly see their task as that of a pilot fish, who shows the way, but is not necessarily followed.
What is nevertheless significant, is that the graceful surfing of experts on top of concepts and policies is naturally influenced by the direction of the waves, in this case, the “spirit of the times”. The idea that there is more in life than bread alone is a useful one when the baker’s shop is closed, or nearly empty. The idea that we should not concentrate on living standards, incomes, and inequality, is, similarly, a functional one in times of declining standards and skyrocketing inequalities. Notions pilfered from ecological thinking , or 1960’s anti materialism are recycled, as a focus on well being and the perception of cohesion replaces more tangible, or mundane considerations, such as equality. The efforts of social scientists or militants since the 1960’s to broaden , and not replace, the notion of income or assets, by including a variety of parameters, can easily be highjacked, and is used to reduce or darken the perception of inequality.
Europe prided itself on its social model , which, to the eyes especially of continental social democrats, was distinct from that prevailing in the US. The 2008 crisis led President Obama to adopt Keynesian policies which were welcomed by some to the economic gurus of the Left, such as Paul Krugman. This implied government help was not limited to bailing out failed banks, but extended to reflationary policies designed to safeguard production and jobs. This was accompanied by attempts at reforming health insurance, so as to broaden the proportion of citizens benefitting from health care. This policy seems to be in tune with the notion of “cohesion”. Conversely, Europe acted in a much more neo liberal and traditional manner. Indeed financial institutions were bailed out, but Keynesian measures remained very limited. Fraud by governments themselves, such as that of Greece, was used as a pretext to introduce cuts in social spending and in public employment, and to streamline social services so as to reduce expenditure. Europe has therefore returned to pre 2000 policies, when social policy was purely seen as expenditure and a burden on public finance. One would have thought the ministrations of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek would have been considered more cautiously by Europeans, after the collapse of the system their followers had created. The notion of cohesion seems once more to take shelter in thin air angel while neo liberal governments persist in their dismal work. European social policy and the “European social model” are now not only on the back seat of the car, but are seem as cumbersome and useless passengers . The cycle opened in the 1980s with the discovery of deindustralization and mass unemployment, and the concepts they gave rise to is now over, and the future of “social citizenship” is very much open.
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 Emile Durkheim De la division du Travail social, Paris, Alcan, 1893.
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 For a criticsm of “communautarisme », see: Pierre André Taguieff La République enlisée, Paris, Syrtes, 2006 and Julien Landfried, Contre le communautarisme, Paris, Colin, 2007.
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 Strong employment growth from the mid-1990s to 2001 and the
noticeable resilience during the last years to economic downturns are
encouraging signs of progress. Compared with four years earlier, over 6
million more people were employed in 2003, although partially due to an
increase in part-time and low-quality jobs. Unemployment and long-term
unemployment were significantly lower (by 30 % and 40 % respectively).
This is by far not enough to achieve the Lisbon targets, but they prove
convincingly that reforms were necessary and that they do pay off.
In order to make work a real option for all, more needs to be done to
increase the participation of women. This calls for the removal of remaining
tax disincentives to work, determined action to address the roots of the
gender pay gap and the stricter enforcement of non-discrimination
legislation. A better reconciliation of family and working life also demands
the provision of availability, affordability and good quality of childcare and
eldercare. Wim Kok, p.32.
 EURACTIVE web site 2010. Services in the internal market. http://www.euractiv.com/en/innovation/services-internal-market/article-132241
 for the text of the directive : http://eurlex.europa.eu/smartapi/cgi/sga_doc?smartapi!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=EN&numdoc=31996L0071&model=guichett
 Jean Paul Révauger Mobilité des travailleurs et « modèle social européen ». La directive sur le travail posté et la crise de février 2009 en GB Communication présentée lors du colloque Etudes européennes Université de Metz, octobre 20010.
 Conseil de l’Europe Le bien-être pour tous
Concepts et outils de la cohésion socialeTendances de la cohésion sociale, no 20
Editions du Conseil de l’Europe 2 Bruxelles, 2008.
 See in Conseil de l’Europe 2008 Bruno Amorose , De l’Etat providence à la société de bien-être p265-283.
 Paul Krugman The Conscience of a Liberal, New York, Norton, 2009.