In the name of competitiveness: a discursive institutionalist analysis of the EU’s approach to labour market structural reform, 2007–2016

This article explores the evolving interplay between different discourses on competitiveness, on the one hand, and different approaches to labour market reform on the other, all in the context of the European Union policymaking during the last decade (2007–2016). It asks how the idea of competitiveness has been used in EU policymaking in order to legitimize reforms in labour markets. Theoretically, the article builds on the discursive turn in institutional research. Methodologically, it applies a clause-based semantic text analysis of the Council’s country-specific recommendations on labour market policy issued to a selection of 10 Eurozone Member States. By developing this temporal comparative analysis, the article seeks to trace the potential impact of the euro crisis on the uses of the idea of competitiveness in labour market policy. The resulting analysis sheds light on the institutionally embedded perception of international competitiveness that prioritizes the cost-based (rather than quality-based) elements of the notion.

The cost-based framing of competitiveness tends to assume — implicitly or explicitly — a trade-off between labour market and welfare policies aimed at social protection, on the one hand, and increases in competitiveness, on the other. It understands, for instance, that because the provision of social security increases workers’ wages and therefore implies additional costs to firms through higher social contributions, it hampers comparative advantages associated with lower labour costs; or while the institution of social rights protects workers from adverse conditions, it also limits the flexibility with which they can respond to market changes.


Author(s) J. Miró
Language English
Year of publication Jun, 2019
Journal Socio-Economic Review
Volume 2019
Page(s) 23
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