Convergence is a broad term. It is at the end of the 1980s that economists started devoting back their attention towards analysing the issue of convergence. When we move to a broader concept of convergence which encompasses both notions of economic growth and a wider set of socio-economic issues such as health, education, poverty and distribution (without considering the emerging issue of environmental sustainability linked to the climate change agenda) things become more complex. The concept of social exclusion and the policy debate on social cohesion are spreading widely. In the EU context, it has evolved to the point of even assimilating that of poverty; while in the South Mediterranean region, there is growing awareness of the relevance of such concept in view of new sources of vulnerability. Hence, across the Euro-Mediterranean region, many employed and healthy persons perceive this increased vulnerability, which cannot be explained by their individual features and performance, but rather by structural socio-economic transformations (massive layoffs, loss of social status, illness) that may result in social exclusion. This social, economic, cultural and political vulnerability is to be understood, and addressed, as a multidimensional issue that affects the vast majority of the population. Likewise, the gap between the most affluent and the poor is growing and regards not only the distance between the richest and the poorest levels of the population, but also the gap between mainstream society and those left behind.
Unlike social exclusion, the concept of social cohesion, a relatively new concept in the poverty debate, sheds a light on the character of the social processes and dynamics that produce the condition of exclusion, analysing the loss of opportunities caused by the impossibility of excluded groups to have access to material and immaterial assets. Somehow, this concept reflects the fact that societies have moved towards a reality of increased vulnerability and greater risk of poverty that are no longer confined to traditional marginal groups. Moving to the policy level, the main instruments to promote social cohesion at the EU internal level have been established in the context of the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) for Social Inclusion. The concept of social cohesion is also explicit in the EU enlargement agenda, and from there it filtered into the Neighbourhood Policy objectives. European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), together with the Barcelona Process, constitute the institutional framework guiding the EU’s relations with the Southern shore of the Mediterranean.
Specific to social cohesion, it appears not only as an objective to be pursued by MPCs but as an instrument to promote the convergence between the two regions. The Euro- Mediterranean Partnership initiated in 1995, but the process of economic integration between the two shores of the Mediterranean has not been significant. The slow pace of economic and political reforms in the Southern shore and the low levels of South-South integration have constituted a powerful obstacle to North-South integration. This gap has increased with the European Enlargement process, the deepening relations with eastern European economies and with the increasing projection of the EU countries towards Asian markets. The convergence process among northern and southern Mediterranean countries has not benefited from the slow pace of economic integration. We should yet not understand convergence in economic terms in the same way as we do for social cohesion. For economic convergence, there is a common theoretical understanding that defines the main determinants for growth and how these apply to convergence patterns. On the other hand, convergence in terms of social cohesion would refer to a broader process, due to the multidimensional and dynamic conceptualisation of the underlying concept itself. Here, the theoretical exercise is to identify which are the main elements that in certain societies favour or jeopardise the achievement of greater social cohesion. Within the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, this poses major questions at the conceptual level (i.e., how to define a common understanding to social cohesion across the two shores of the Mediterranean?) but also at the empirical level (i.e., which indicators and analytical methodologies are capable of capturing the complexity of social cohesion while ensuring relevance as to policy design?).
This research project aims to address this type of issues with a comparative perspective using a social cohesion approach.. In particular, the comparison between some countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Syria, and Italy, Greece and Spain could be particularly interesting, within the context of a general comparison between EU countries and their Mediterranean partners. Although the nature of processes which lead to social exclusion in the given countries is very different, all of them face similar challenges as regards the design of social policies: increasing social cohesion and competitiveness, in the face of tight budget constraints and strong demands on the quality of public services.
The main value of the project lies in the fact that the concept of social cohesion is not yet widely diffuse among the MPCs, and therefore involves effort to analyse existing Moroccan, Egyptian and Syrian social policies through a social cohesion approach, which differs to the prevailing one in these countries (i.e., Human Development). Furthermore, the project uses existing data sources of comparable social indicators. These indicators are used to assess in what manner the European social cohesion indicators and innovative analytical techniques can be used to measure social cohesion
in the EU and MPCs, given available data. From this project, we confirm that a preconceived ‘ideal’ reference point of what constitutes a successful example of social cohesion case (in terms of approaches, policies, instruments, and results) is difficult to find and inadequate, even within the context of a comparison among ‘homogenous’ European countries. In other terms, there is no predefined benchmark on social cohesion policy, because a sort of reference point can be derived from the result of a comparative analysis on such vague dimensions and because we have to consider different dimensions and perspectives – such as instruments, policies and results – to address social cohesion. The predominance of sectoral, rather than holistic, approaches to address in practical terms various political objectives, such as social cohesion, in Europe and in the MPCs implies that the reference points have to be extended by considering the inputs, efficiency, effectiveness in terms of potential and final outcomes in the various sectors of interest and, in case, in their interaction. This assumption means that it is always possible to expand or reduce various inputs and outputs (and outcomes) with different common factors.
Overall, there is no argument that would make it appropriate to seriously oppose some political and institutional convergence towards social cohesion, intended as a metainstitution for better promoting distributional outcomes that are more desirable. According to this perspective, the interpretation of social cohesion is that it helps build better institutions and policies in terms of ‘less unemployment with more distribution’. It is also true that the definition of such a single common outcome is itself a simplification of the real world and of the vagueness of social cohesion concept. Yet, one may argue that, at least in the EU context, since the Lisbon Council in the year 2000, ensuring higher levels of employment and promoting an inclusive social model have been the main features of the EU Social Policy Agenda. This proposal can then be translated into operational terms through a model that seeks to enhance the positive interrelations between social policy (to ensure greater social cohesion), employment policy (to increase employment levels) and economic policy (to promote efficiency and competitiveness). The questionable assumption is that these objectives are perfect complements, and the estimate of potential and concrete outcomes on social cohesion highly depends on the fact that the exact transformation of one ‘unit’ of inputs into one ‘unit’ of respective outputs and then outcomes is imprecise.
Effectiveness in terms of social cohesion can then take a multitude of forms, and economic convergence among the EU and MPCs does not necessarily imply convergence in social cohesion: different institutions, social and political landscapes can generate hysteresis and path dependence. Therefore, development depends on solutions to specific problems that may lay in institutions and policies innovations, as well as in unconventional economic strategies for catching up. Under these circumstances, there is no best practice to be discovered. And the drawback of such a comparison is, of course, the difficulty of acquiring proper and reliable data: the more units there are for comparisons, the greater the likelihood is that other units with a similar scope can be available for comparison.
The first chapter of the report introduces the research context and objectives. In the second chapter, main conceptual approaches and policy strategies in both shores of the Mediterranean are assessed. Specifically, main paradigms to the idea of social cohesion are reviewed while addressing conceptual debates and differences are addressed in order to gather evidence about the understanding around social cohesion between EU countries and MPCs, and within the two regions. This chapter also deals with the policies to promote greater social cohesion in two sectors, namely: education and health. Specifically, we look at the main linkages between policies in these two sectors and social cohesion. We realise that in education there is growing attention to not only
addressing inequalities in access but also in attainment, while in health, more attention is paid to addressing inequalities in terms of mortality, morbidity and in access to health care. Quality in the services provided arises as a main issue in both sectors, especially linked to ensuring that all individuals have access to quality services. We go further in our analysis by exploring how these issues are being translated into policy action. We review both the EU and the MPCs realities with a comparative perspective. On the EU side, we do so with a focus on Southern European countries, which present
certain particularities in terms of welfare regime and socio-economic structure. In fact, they are characterised by a relatively larger reliance on family as care provider compared to other European realities, together with a greater share of informality in their economies and relatively lower administrative capacity. These specific components create some issues to how policies in the social realm shall address new challenges. We focus on health care and education, where inequalities and quality of services are growing in importance in terms of policy objectives to promoting greater social cohesion. The impact of ageing society and the increased dynamism and uncertainties in current societies are also well-perceived challenges in these countries. On the other hand, policy frameworks in the sectors of health and education are reviewed for MPCs, focusing on Syria, Morocco and Egypt. The main conclusion to this part would be that there are significant divergences at the conceptual level between the North and the South Mediterranean. There is nonetheless scope for greater discussion and cooperation among academia and policy-makers across the two Mediterranean shores, which could contribute to a better understanding of the policy implications of different theoretical approaches and how these are converging within the ENP framework.
In the third chapter, we move to measurement and empirical issues. In view of growing interest among MPCs in measuring progress of social cohesion policies (mostly thanks to the efforts within the MDGs framework), the EU system of social indicators is described while identifying their measurement potential in the MPCs context. In particular, there are a number of areas in which additional indicators should be included in order to adequately capture progress in these countries and ensure relevance in terms of policy-making. Next, a descriptive and trends analysis is
carried out in order to assess convergence across MPCs (i.e., Syria, Morocco and Egypt) in main social dimensions in the sectors of health care and education. This is followed by an empirical analysis which attempts to assess convergence and divergence across EU countries (i.e., EU15) and MPCs (Morocco and Egypt). The analysis applies an innovative methodology, that of fuzzy sets, which is capable of capturing both qualitative and quantitative changes over time. This methodology is particularly useful in addressing the objective to combine quantitative and qualitative dimensions as well as in reflecting a more open and broad concept of convergence, by refusing any a priori model or benchmark (represented by a single or different social system regimes) and by accepting the idea that naturally multiple regimes or systems co-exist (with different degrees of membership) within one country. While encountering some data limitations, this is applied to social cohesion policies in education and health care over the 2000s. Social policy in general occupies different positions on national governments’ agendas, and is not linked to the same objective welfare indicators across countries. A comparative analysis centred on the evolution of social indicators which are more easily comparable among countries than qualitative social policy analyses has to consider this limitation. The empirical part of this report shows that, according to the specific usage of fuzzy set approach applied to our dataset, in comparing 1999 and 2006 years, a process of convergence is occurring within the EU-15 countries in terms of movement towards the same ideal-type (I) for health and the maintenance of a given ideal-typo (IX) for education, whereas the picture is much more ambiguous for the two MPCs under investigation ( with Egypt and Morocco showing a more similar pattern for heath than education). However, the data must be considered carefully because there are important lags in the mechanisms which allow financial resources to translate into social policy, social policy to improve social indicators, and the statistics to capture real improvements. Failure to translate resources into social welfare improvements through social policy instruments can stem from lack of political will, institutional weaknesses ands ineffective social policy instruments.
The final chapter draws main conclusions and points to areas for further research. Specifically, we conclude that extent to which the concept of social cohesion and all the different dimensions and their inputs, products and outputs demand a new view of what is involved in explaining the different ways in which social cohesion may occur in the EU, the MPCs and abroad. What is important, for our purpose, is to criticize the idea of a unique and irreducible profile which comes with social cohesion. The concept is unquestionably fuzzy and affected by the particular social interactions which a given country experiences in a given period. Equally, we should not underestimate the importance of intentional and unintentional control which public policies exert over social cohesion and the very partial control that policies may exert at their best. Policy actions are then always limited, because they are constrained for many reasons, and sectoral policies are much more limited, indeed. Thus, we consider social cohesion as an important historical issue of contemporary societies which cannot be denied. At the same time, all the current definitions of social cohesion (as well as the concept of Human Development) across the EU and the MPCs regions have profound conceptual and operative similarities. Somehow, it appears that it is only the detail that differs.
We think that a concept of social cohesion may well be applied to many MPCs, at least for two reasons. On one side, there is no need to be anchored to westernized meanings of concepts as a consequence of Western social and cultural influence all over the world, and whenever possible more challenging and open approaches to general concepts (such as social cohesion) may be preferable, to reflect the importance of other cultures, lifestyles and mentalities. On the other side, a crucial political determinant of Western welfare state regimes, that is the need to create consensus and political cohesion in the process of nation building, is exactly what is behind the social policies defined and implemented by governments in MPCs. In theory, MPC economies can exploit the opportunity to adopt certain institutions and social policies on the basis of the results experienced in the EU countries, without waiting for a later stage of development.
Implicit in many comparative analyses is the assumption that, despite the complexity of political regimes, social structures, culture, geographic position and size, some basic macroeconomic, political and institutional facts can be used to summarize some similar or different characteristics of oil economies throughout the world. In particular, without being compelling as a theory, this report tried to identify just a few basic elements of homogeneity and heterogeneity of situations among the EU and MPCs, in terms of structures as well as of developmental trajectories, at least in the limited perspective of the last decade, rather than in a long-term perspective. The emphasis placed on institutions that affect market functioning and, as a consequence, on the microeconomics of growth, reflects the significant change in orientation, from macroeconomic and structural issues, occurred in current thinking on development economics since the mid 1990s. A problem is that, as noted by Stiglitz, institutions mean different things (rules, regulations, customs and organizations) to different people, and while it is easy to identify the outcomes of good institutions, it remains far from clear how to go about creating good institutions.
Last but not least, a particularly striking example of such relevant changes that cannot be easily and fairly accurately charted and measured, as well as its causes completely well understood is climate change. Climate change has human health impacts, by increasing the rate of heat- and cold-related illness and death, increasing the frequency and/or the intensity of extreme weather events (such as storms). It also affects human health indirectly, through its impact on food supply and patterns of disease, as well as through the worsening nexus among energy crisis, water shortage and climate changes (particularly acute in the Mediterranean area). Moreover, all these negative effects are likely to fall more heavily on the most vulnerable groups of population, who live in more difficult conditions and have less of a buffer against adversity. It is certain that climate change is occurring, and it is clear that human activity is one of the causes as well as that somehow it will affect social life and cohesion. Thus, the problems posed by global environmental changes are particularly challenging for policies under “uncertainty” of information and effectiveness. This report did not take account of environmental impact on social equity and cohesion. Traditional assumptions of public policies about economic growth and social development do not include such a challenging issue.
Linked to this increased interest in climate change, there is a common concern which could be addressed with common, coordinated responses. In this regard we would not only be referring to social cohesion but also to territorial cohesion. By conceiving the Mediterranean as a bio-region we refer to a common space where policy challenges are already emerging in a wide myriad of areas. From our viewpoint, the agenda should go beyond integration and devote particular attention to these issues. In the coming years, the challenges posed by climate change to the Mare Nostrum should move to the top of the agenda of the ENP towards the Mediterranean.