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Equality for the Market. The National Usages of EU Equality Policies

Final Report Summary - EQUALUSES (Equality for the Market. The National Usages of EU Equality Policies)

Based on original data and material, the EQUALUSES project explores the developments of a public policy which is at the heart of the process of European integration and which has always mirrored the relative weight given to equality with regard to market within this process – the EU gender equality policy. Adopting a perspective of sociology of public action, focused on the role of strategic actors, this project aims at offering a panoramic vision of the evolution of this policy.
At the turn of the 21st century the European Union was described by many authors as one of the most progressive political systems in the world regarding the promotion of gender equality. For many years European gender equality policy was indeed considered “exceptional”, notably compared to other European policies in social regulation. For several decades gender equality appeared to be the only field of action in the social domain where regulation was not limited to a minimalist compromise between unification on highest standards and a total lack of regulations. The promotion of gender equality and the fight against sex-based discrimination was seen as one of the rare areas in which the EU went beyond the sole re-regulatory regime justified by the fluidization of the market, by imposing on member states a range of norms and values that are higher than those in place in most countries. However, to what extent does this “exceptional” situation still stand today, almost fifteen years later? Does the EU still provide a privileged space for the implementation of ambitious public action to promote the fight against gender inequalities? The analysis provided in this project brings new comparative light on the long-term transformations of European gender equality policy and provides certain elements of response to these questions.

The analysis of European action in favour of gender equality provided in this project has allowed us to identify several causal temporal sequences within the trajectory of European gender equality policy since the insertion of Article 119 into the Treaty of Rome. It has also enabled us to analyse the evolution of the gender regime that was specific to the EU in each of these different periods.
The articulation between the market norm and the equality norm which has characterised European policy in this area since the outset has gone through different configurations and participated in creating coherence between the three specific models of public action for the promotion of gender equalities. The first of these models was the exception model which was established in the 1980s up until the first half of the 1990s, which was followed by the anti-discrimination model until the mid-2000s, and finally the rights model which is currently being consolidated.
The transformations at work in the shift from each of these models that we have revealed (exception, anti-discrimination, rights) can be described as gradual and transformative change. The results of these changes lie in discontinuity and rupture. All aspects of European gender equality policy underwent profound upheavals: changes in goals, means, ways of operating and ways of thinking. The mechanisms of change, on the other hand, are based on continuity: incremental transformations, accumulation of successive measures, spread over time. This is how a process that is progressive in its form could lead European gender equality policy out of the path traced in the medium to long term. More specifically, change is built through aggregation and successive adjustments rather than by implementation and brutal reversals. However, a coherent result nevertheless emerged, albeit progressively and without a clear and determined vision of change. This analysis of the transformations of European gender equality policy has revealed the shift from a process of institutionalisation (in the first period), to normalisation (in the second period) and then to marginalisation (in the third period).
If we look more particularly at the most recent changes in the fight against gender inequalities at the European level the horizon which abruptly appears is that of the dismantling of European gender equality policy. The direction taken by the recent modifications to the EU’s gender regime is that of progressive extinction. Change is made without formal decision, it has little visibility but all areas of policy are concerned (instruments, institutional structures, public policy community, representations) and its formal and substantial capacities are in dramatic decline. It is of course important to emphasize that certain elements of gender equality policy are maintained or are even developing. This is true of the constant stimulus provided by a structure like the FEMM Committee of the European Parliament, this is also true of the opportunity structures opened by dispositions relating to multiple inequalities, of initiatives in terms of quotas, or of the fight against violence against women, including in criminal matters. However, at the same time, most of the elements that enabled the emergence and development of gender equality policy are disaggregating. The elaboration of legally binding norms not aligned on the lowest common denominator; the development of non-binding norms allowing the EU field of action to be extended to new areas; funding for positive action programmes aiming to facilitate equal opportunities beyond just the area of equal treatment; the transversal awareness of inequalities and their impact in all public policies; the cohesion of a strongly mobilised public policy community: all these elements are in retreat. European gender equality policy finds itself attached, both in administrative and cognitive terms, to the theme of justice and human rights, therefore definitively losing its exceptional nature. It has seen its institutional, interactional, financial and normative autonomy heavily reduced. This phenomenon of progressive dismantling has been accelerated and made more critical by the situation of the economic and budgetary crisis which hit Europe at the end of the 2000s and which will take its full effect with the EU multi-annual financial framework of 2014-2020 and the austerity measures it implies.

Contact details:
Sophie Jacquot