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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 203–221 | Cite as

‘An uplifting tale of Europe’. Jacques Delors and the contradictory quest for a European social model in the Age of Reagan

  • Alessandra BitumiEmail author
Article

Abstract

Based on the personal papers of Jacques Delors, this article discusses the origins and significance of Delors’s ambition to provide a renewed and updated form of socially embedded capitalism, within the framework of the Atlantic Community in the 1980s. Engaging in a political and intellectual battle against ‘Reaganism’, the President of the European Commission tried to draw the boundaries of Europe’s alleged distinctiveness, turning this imagined Europe into a project for the future. The article reveals how the ‘Social nature’ of Europe, ubiquitously and conveniently opposed to the neoliberal character of US capitalism, has been the pillar of a long popular exceptionalist narrative that became hegemonic, in the EU and progressively worldwide, in the ‘age of Delors’.

Keywords

Jacques Delors European integration Reaganism Europe social model narratives 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Duccio Basosi addresses this question in his original analysis of Western Europe’s reactions to international Reaganomics: ‘The European Community and International Reaganomics, 1981–1985’, in European Integration and the Atlantic Community in the 1980s, ed. K. Patel and K. Weisbrode (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). By focusing on the political economy of US-European relations in the 1980s, he argues that ‘not only did criticism from Western Europe vary in intensity throughout the years in question, but (…) there never emerged a truly cohesive Western European position (towards Reaganomics)’, 135. An interpretation that collides with Mary Nolan’s, The Transatlantic Century. Europe and America, 1890–2010 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    In writing this paper, I have extensively relied upon the Personal Papers of Jacques Delors, recently made available by the Institut Delors. While not disclosing unexpected elements, they help to disentangle some historiographical knots by stimulating the adoption of original perspectives. All three categories of the funds are indeed relevant to this analysis. Delors’s extraordinarily rich collection of speeches and interventions, the interviews he con-ducted with the Media, his preparatory notes and reports enable to reconstruct his under-standing, and representing, of Europe’s economic and social order. I am indebted to N. Piers Ludlow for sharing with me his insight and knowledge of EC Presidential Archives, included Delors’s.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On transatlantic relations, their contradictory evolution in the 1980s, see Patel and Weis-brode, European Integration and the Atlantic Community. For this section, particularly relevant are the chapters by D. Basosi and P.N. Ludlow, ‘The Unnoticed Apogee of Atlanticism? US-Western European Relations in the Early Reagan Era’; A. Varsori, ‘The Reasons for Change: Europe in the Second Cold War’, 226-40; and M. Gilbert, ‘A Shift in Mood: The 1992 Initiative and Changing US Perceptions of the European Community, 1988-1989’, 243-64.Google Scholar
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    ‘nous sommes ici engagés dans un débat d’une grande acuité avec l’Administration amér-icaine. Ce que l’on appelle le “Reaganisme” ne vise pas seulement le fonctionnement de l’économie interne, mais aussi toute l’ action internationale des Etats’, as reported by the Herald Tribune (1 March 1985) and the Wall Street Journal (1 March 1985), in Jacques Delors Archives (hereinafter JD), 1st Commission (hereinafter I), 42, I-85, ‘Fil Rouge’, 5. Interestingly, commentators of La Lettre europénne would welcome his Program for the Commission as the product of someone who would finally resist the temptation of Rea-ganomics, 6.Google Scholar
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    To understand Delors’s composite nature and thinking, his memoirs, speeches and interventions are particularly valuable. Beyond his most important publications, see Mémoires (Paris: Plon, 2004); L’Unité d’un home (Paris: Odile Jacob, 1994); Combats pour l’Europe (Paris: Economica, 1996); Investir dans le social (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2009); J. Delors and P. Alexandre, En sortir ou pas (Paris: Grasset, 1985).Google Scholar
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    S. Baz-Hatem and N. Chambon, Jacques Delors, hier et aujourd’hui (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 2014). On this, his reflections collected in his personal archive are highly valuable; see, for instance, JD-24,I-85, ‘Message (dactyl.) de Jacques Delors sur Emmanuel Mounier (31 March 1985)’, 98-100; ‘Lettre de Jacques Delors à l’Association des Amis d’Emmanuel Mounier accompagnant son message (1 April 1985)’ and ‘lettres de l’Association sollicitant un témoignage de Jacques Delors (10 December 1984–21 March 1985)’, 102–4; JD-201, II-90, Commémoration du philosophe chrétien Emmanuel Mounier, 1–89; JD-900, II-89, Collège de l’Europe (Bruges), ‘Discours d’ouverture de la Quarantième année academique du College d’Europe’, 3–42. His trade unionism is well detectable in the entire Fund. Of particular interest is Delors’s intense dialogue with Emilio Gabaglio, Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation.Google Scholar
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    Delors: Cela ne peut être réalisé que si ce grand marché est doté de ce que j’appelle une con-science morale, une conscience politique et c’est là la grande chance du modèle européen. Ce modèle dont on a dit tant de mal ces dernières années, mais qui avait su concilier les vertus du marché, l’intervention des autorités publiques et le dialogue entre les partenaires sociaux donnant ainsi sa spécificité à l’Europe. Cette spécificité, on ne la retrouve ni dans les raisons du succès japonais, ni dans le modèle américain avec ses heurs et ses malheurs. Elle est inscrite au fond de l’identité européenne et con-ditionne en profondeur. La progression qui par la libération des échanges, la coopération technologique, le dialogue social et la coopération monétaire devra nous conduire à un espace économique commun. (JD-56, I-87, Activités de Jacques Delors, press, Discours in ‘Journal de l’UCL’ (February 1987), 128)Google Scholar
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    Delors often used the metaphor. See, for instance, JD-2,II-85, ‘Les orientations de la Com-mission de Communautés européens’, 5; also Intervention au’ Grand Jury’ de RTL — ‘Le Monde’ (03/02), 59, the same metaphor is used to reinforce his opposition to any form of social dumping.Google Scholar
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    The epithet of ‘social engineer’ is Delors’s. He would frequently qualify his institutional and political role as such: ‘Je me définis, si le mot n’est pas prétentieux, comme un ingénieur social. J’essaie toujours de voir où et comment on peut faire avancer les choses. (…) J’ai été choisi pour cette tache pragmatique’, JD-25, I-85, A. Guatelli, ‘Interview by the Cor-riere della Sera’, 44. Commentators have popularised the definition. See, for instance, the article published by Esprit a month before Delors’s investiture, JD-10, DP-84, ‘Propos d’un ingénieur social’, December 1984.Google Scholar
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© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of History, Classics and ArchaeologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland

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