The ‘Social Market Economy’ in a (Heterogeneous) Social Europe: Does It Make a Difference?

17 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2019

See all articles by Catherine Barnard

Catherine Barnard

University of Cambridge

Sybe A. de Vries

Utrecht University; Utrecht University - School of Law

Date Written: September 4, 2019


In this article we take managing migration and managing the gig economy as a prism through which to examine not only whether the phrase ‘social market economy’ has any real substance, but also whether it offers any guidance as to how the European Union (EU) may respond in the future. We argue that the language of ‘social market economy’, a concept drafted in the halcyon days prior to the financial and migration crises, serves only to highlight the gap between rhetoric and reality. We identify two main reasons for this, namely a lack of legal competence and a lack of political will. We then consider whether the objective of attaining a ‘social market economy’ can be operationalised in any way. In the light of the establishment of the European Social Pillar, we argue that it can, yet within certain limits. We conclude by arguing that the lack of clear communication by the EU, both of its successes and also of the limits on its powers, means that it receives little credit for the good it is able to do. It also unnecessarily raises expectations among the public about what it can achieve. This inevitably leads to the disappointment generated by unfulfilled expectations.

Keywords: EU, social pillar, solidarity, migration, gig economy

Suggested Citation

Barnard, Catherine and de Vries, Sybe A., The ‘Social Market Economy’ in a (Heterogeneous) Social Europe: Does It Make a Difference? (September 4, 2019). Utrecht Law Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 47-63, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Catherine Barnard (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

Sybe A. De Vries

Utrecht University ( email )

Vredenburg 138
Utrecht, 3511 BG

Utrecht University - School of Law

3508 TC Utrecht

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