From the International Labor Office to European Social Policies: Origins of a Paradigm

By Lorenzo Mechi

In the interwar period, the International Labour Office (ILO) aimed at economic integration in Europe with the assumption that a rationalisation process would be induced, thus stimulating economic growth and providing the necessary resources for widespread social reforms. When, after World War II, economic integration was actually initiated, the ILO hung on to this concept, whose influence can be seen in the treaties that established the European Communities. Consequently, those treaties are characterised by a strong faith in the positive impact of market dynamics and have very little social dimension, as they only aimed at improving manpower mobility and bolstering the competitiveness of the European labour market. Working in synergy with national interventionist policies in the 1950s and 1960s, this approach actually produced the results that had been anticipated in the interwar years. It contributed to growth in the post-WWII expansion period and played a part in the creation of the European welfare states. From the 1980s onwards, in a macroeconomic context growingly characterized by fiscal austerity and discipline, this approach nonetheless began to meet its limits, as it proved increasingly unable to ensure satisfactory employment levels.

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