Caring for each other

The welfare state in crisis

Wojciech Przybylski
5 November 2013

In late October 2013, the British press decried “benefit tourism.” Allegedly, the numbers of migrants from EU countries that receive social benefits in the UK influence the British economy. Therefore, already in 2004, London introduced a “right to reside” test that restricts benefits to economically active individuals. Firstly, isn’t that a paradox? And secondly, is that the welfare state serving its purpose?

The uproar in London came after László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, presented the latest report on the impact of non-active EU mobile citizens on social security. It is small: less than 1% of all benefits are spent this way. The EC has clearly expressed its dissatisfaction with London’s policy and has urged Britain to abandon the test. In response, the UK authorities continued to speak about the benefit tourism that is allegedly corrupting Europe.

This strikes at the heart of the issue. At the national level, staggering economies and shifting demographics are challenging the current model of the welfare state. At the European level, there is a great deal of solidarity rhetoric but a scarcity of the tools needed to properly institutionalize this virtue. This begs the central question: can the solidarity principle be subject to any boundaries at all? Including the boundaries of Europe?

In this volume of Visegrad Insight we investigate the welfare state in crisis and delve into the challenges that lie ahead for ever-shrinking generations. Martin Ehl writes a policy memo for all those seriously considering a responsible political career in the decades to come, and Agnieszka Jucewicz-Kwaśniewska calls for a change in the contemporary model of education. Without such a shift, we will continue to raise little egoists instead of compelling human beings.

We also report on political implications arising from solidarity addressed in public debate. This seems simple: while words uttered in the corridors of the EU Parliament fade into the distance, the practical experience of a natural disaster creates a window of opportunity for politicians seeking more empathy from voters. Matteo Tacconi, an Italian journalist reporting on Central Europe, writes about the ways recent floods have changed policy and politics in the region.

It is worth remembering that the idea of “solidarity” came to the fore together with political transformations in the region. This is emphasized in a lecture by Michael Sandel, a professor at Harvard, and arguably the most prominent public philosopher of our time.

Furthermore, we report on the future of democracy in the developing world and development assistance. In the last ten years, the V4 countries have quadrupled their development assistance budgets. However, as Maciej Kuziemski observes, this increase has not yet been followed by a coordinated effort or public debate. To determine why that is so and what the future holds, we interviewed: Igor Blaževič, Tomicah Tilleman or Karla Wursterova – experts and key actors in V4 debate on this topic.

Europe may not be portrayed as perfect, but this criticism is not shared by the struggling and drowning migrants from North Africa who risk their lives to come here. I wonder if that is what political players mean, when they speak of “tourism for benefits.” Even if that were true, would it permit us to confine solidarity to national or even EU boundaries? I think not.