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The Effects of Marketization on Societies: The Case of Europe

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Understanding the marketisation of Europe

EU-funded researchers show how Europe’s single market has led to an intensification of marketisation – resulting in a number of social consequences.

Fundamental Research

According to the EU-funded TEMS project, the European Union’s pursuit of an integrated single market is an unprecedented experiment in state-enforced marketisation. ‘Marketisation, or the introduction and intensification of price-based competition, is not a new concept, but one that has an almost ghostly presence in Europe,’ says Lead Researcher Professor Ian Greer. ‘There have been decades of constant effort at the European level to promote the free flow of goods, services, capital and labour – all of which has ratcheted up the disciplinary power of the markets over citizens.’ The TEMS project set out to better understand the intended and unintended consequences of marketisation. The project asks whether there is a link between marketisation and growing inequality and, if so, what is its nature? ‘Even though our work may seem pretty far outside mainstream EU policy, our hope is that by better understanding the concept we will be able to better address its social consequences.’ Based on an array of interviews and data analysis, TEMS researchers have found a variation in the degree of marketization happening in Europe. ‘Despite decades of efforts promoting more competition across European borders, extreme competition remains the exception, not the rule,’ says Geer. ‘However, we do see intense marketisation in specific groups, such as live musicians, along with incrementally increasing marketization in many health and social welfare systems.’ What are the limits to imposing marketisation? According to Greer, although there are a range of policy concerns, social movements and vested interests that frustrate market-making in various ways, researchers are finding limits to marketisation that reflect contradictions in mainstream European economic policy. For example, with austerity comes limits to marketisation. ‘Thus, the Greek public sector cannot be marketised in the sense that we see in Northern and Western Europe because management autonomy has been greatly curtailed in order to reduce costs,’ says Greer. ‘We may find, when our analysis is complete, that restricting public spending slows the development of the single European market in numerous areas.’ On the other hand, areas that have a high degree of marketisation exhibit a relatively low capacity for society to shape its effects. Thus, in the UK’s state-dominated National Health Service, unions and patient groups are far more effective in preventing privatisation than in Germany’s more marketised municipal-run hospital systems, even though German campaigners are, according to Greer, ‘better organised’. ‘Our finding is not that civil society is made quiescent by marketisation, but that trade unions and others within civil society are weakened and face existential risks if they do not oppose it,’ says Greer. Tackling the destructive aspects of marketisation And herein lies the complexity of the situation. Whereas the EU is committed to the development of a single market, such development is also responsible for the social consequences of marketisation. Yet it is precisely this Catch-22 of sorts that underlines the importance of funding research like TEMS, as it allows all players to better understand – and address – the consequences of marketisation in Europe. ‘The TEMS team stands ready to help those working within the EU’s institutions who want to identify and tackle the socially destructive aspects of marketisation,’ adds Greer.


TEMS, economics, single market, European single market, marketization, social welfare

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