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Lothar Funk

Abstract

Throughout the 1990s, international organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund mainly based their policy proposals for transition economies and the high unemployment, low growth countries in Western Europe, on economic “orthodoxy”. This approach predominantly followed neoclassical economics in which market liberal solutions predominate. These suggestions were controversial; the early results of these policies appeared to be disappointing. Policymakers sought alternative reform proposals and the idea of “flexicurity” has gradually emerged to the political buzzword. Flexicurity combines flexibility with security and suggests that rather generous unemployment benefits and spending on active labour market policies can be aligned with a flexible, employment-friendly labour market. Originating in Denmark, the European Commission and the International Labour Organisation have promoted flexicurity more or less independent of specific single country cases, and based their approach on more abstract, generalised relationships between flexibility and security. These bodies argue for an alternative policy to pure orthodox deregulation and liberalisation for the member states of the European Union (EU) and the former transition economies that joined the EU since 2004. After a review of common labour market-related characteristics and problems of the EU’s central and eastern European members, the article summarises and critically evaluates the main elements of flexicurity suggestions. It further compares them to the relevant policy proposals based primarily on more orthodox economic analysis. The analysis shows that several preconditions for a successful flexicurity strategy are still lacking across the new member states. Moreover, the article demonstrates that current proposals by the critics of a single-minded flexicurity approach by no means always disregard potentially positive effects of improving the supposed trade-offs between flexibility and security. At least a limited convergence between flexicurity and a renewed orthodoxy in the economic mainstream can be detected.

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Article Keywords

Central and Eastern Europe, Convergence, Employment, Flexicurity, Labour market- related institutions, Transition, Welfare regimes

Section
Research Articles
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