EPSU conf1.jpg

Services provided by the public sector (e.g. health care, personal services, education, public transport etc.) are an essential solution to move to a society which prioritises well-being and quality of life for its citizens above the current quest for endless economic growth. But these same public services are not well represented in how society measures its economic progress.

This was the main message of the two-day conference “From (un)economic growth to future well-being” co-organised by the ETUI and EPSU, the European Public Services Union, on 15-16 October 2012.

In the opening session on 15 October, Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation and Philippe Van Parijs of the University of Louvain (UCL) looked at the nature of economic growth and how ecological constraints and social inequalities are putting into question the prioritisation of growth as the main political objective. Both underlined the need to move to a new paradigm of well-being and social justice.

The role of the public sector and public services in this new paradigm was the main topic of debate the next day. Wouter Van Dooren, researcher at the Antwerp University explained why public services are not well represented in the GDP metric and why initiatives to include public services better into GDP figures have failed in the past.

David Hall, director of the Public Services International Research Unit, concentrated his contribution on one area of services, the health sector. Using OECD statistics of American and European private and public spending on healthcare, Hall made the point that high private spending is “value-substracted” as it does not contribute to higher life expectancy or lower infant mortality and sometimes even leads to worse outcomes.

Robert Anderson, head of the Living Conditions and Quality of Life research programme at Eurofound, complemented Hall’s defence of public services by looking at how citizens in different European countries assess the quality of these services and how this contributes to life satisfaction. Eurofound will present a new European Quality of Life survey next November.

Fabian Zuleeg, senior economist at the European Policy Centre (EPC) presented a gloomy picture of the challenges facing the public sector as a result of the Eurocrisis. Public services are facing some tough choices and have to be made more efficient and effective, according to the German economist. Countering Zuleeg’s criticism, Paul de Beer of the Research Institute of the Dutch trade union movement highlighted the need to expand and improve public services as an instrument to reduce social inequality.

A last session focusing on the politics of wellbeing heard from Agnes Hubert of the EU’s Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) that the Commission is continuing its work on the “GDP and beyond” initiative and aims to launch a comprehensive social package in the beginning of 2013. Jean Lambert of the Green Group in the European Parliament took issue with the “social dimension” of the current EU policies while Ole Busck of the Aalborg University questioned the obsession of trade unions with growth policies and claimed that “degrowth” and job growth can go hand in hand. Last but not least, Florence Jany-Catrice of the University of Lille, France, pointed to the need to organise a fundamental democratic debate on the organisation of a future well-being society beyond growth and GDP.


  • Read the full