The central questions and main contextual background explored by this year’s issue of Benchmarking are, at their core, fairly straightforward. Europe is at a crossroads, painfully navigating four transitions at once: a (perhaps less than obvious) economic policy transition best exemplified by the debates surrounding the EU economic governance framework (COM(2022) 583 final); a geopolitical transition, increasingly shaped by the ‘open strategic autonomy’ debate (Akgüç 2021) and, of course, by the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine; and the two more readily acknowledged green and digital transitions. It is, however, becoming increasingly clear, as explored in greater detail in the following chapters, that these four transitions imply important trade-offs and have significant ramifications for the social dimension of the European project and for the livelihoods of European workers. These consequences are currently being ignored by the principal institutional actors that are shaping them and that, at times, have conflicting priorities.
The current inability on the part of governments and policy-makers, at a national and supranational level, to resolve the tensions inherent to these transitions is a major factor in determining what the following pages of this issue refer to as a ‘polycrisis’. We understand the current conjuncture as a ‘polycrisis’ due to the presence of a series of multiple, separate crises happening simultaneously (e.g. a climate crisis, a cost-of-living crisis, a geopolitical crisis, etc.), due to the way in which these separate crises interact with each other (for instance the energy crisis and the climate crisis), and due to the extent to which they thus amplify each other’s effects, in particular social and economic effects (the extent to which strained supply chains and externally driven inflationary pressures tend to magnify the shortcomings of current fiscal policies, for instance, as noted in the opening chapter). There is also a growing perception that resolving any of these crises in isolation may be a particularly arduous task and that cumulative responses must be identified.
This polycrisis is intimately linked to the inability of the ruling class to engage with what we identify here as the missing transition: the social transition. This issue of Benchmarking Working Europe engages critically with these four transitions and their effects and posits that only a transformative and ambitious social transition can break the current cycle of crisis after crisis and instead institutionalise what the issue refers to as ‘sustainable resilience’.
The four transitions – and the missing one
We are arguably witnessing four major discernible and disruptive transition processes that are shaking the kaleidoscope of the European project as it is currently still enshrined in the (fragile) constitutional consensus embodied by the Lisbon Treaty. The rather more obvious (but no less challenging) processes are the green and technological transitions. Yet, it is arguable that, most visibly since the suspension of parts of the Stability and Growth Pact, we have also been experiencing an economic policy (including a monetary policy) transition and – in connection with the supply chain shortages caused by Covid‑19 and its aftermath, and more markedly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine – a geopolitical transition linked to the developing concept of ‘open strategic autonomy’