Lessons from Europe?: What Americans can Learn from European Public Policies


R. Daniel Kelemen

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    For Tasha and Zara


    The United States is facing a number of major policy challenges, from an unaffordable health care system, to failing schools, to a fractured social safety net and rising inequality, to a mounting climate crisis, to high long-term unemployment, to a massive government debt. The economically advanced democracies of Europe face many of the same policy challenges we do, and they have confronted them in a variety of ways—some successful, some not. This book explores what US policymakers can learn from the experiences—both successes and failures—of European democracies in confronting our common policy challenges.

    Too often, public policy debates and even scholarly research on public policy in the United States fail to take into account European experiences where these might offer useful lessons. Where public discussions do invoke comparisons with European policies, these are often based on misleading rhetoric and caricatures that have little to do with the realities of contemporary European public policies. On the Left, some idealize European social democracies ignoring the many problems and policy failings that countries across the continent are contending with today. On the Right, many treat Europe as a synonym for high taxes, big government, and economic stagnation, ignoring the impressive successes of many European countries in many policy domains. This book seeks to move beyond rhetoric and simplistic understandings to examine in detail what Americans can actually learn from the experiences of European democracies in confronting our common challenges across a wide range of policy areas.

    The book has been crafted with an undergraduate audience in mind, with the aim that the book would be adopted in undergraduate courses on comparative public policy, comparative politics, European politics, and—for those who wish to bring in a comparative perspective—courses on American politics and public policy. I wrote this book because no book quite like it existed. Of course, there are a number of fine books that focus on transatlantic comparisons relating to public policy, some exploring the scale, nature, and causes of transatlantic differences, others making arguments about whose policies are superior and why. There are also general texts on comparative public policy and lesson drawing in public policy that touch on themes related to those explored here. However, none of these books do precisely what Lessons from Europe? does: bring together leading experts in their fields to offer even-handed comparisons of what American policymakers and citizens might learn from European experiences across a wide range of policy areas.

    The book begins with my introduction, which explores why contemporary discussions of Europe in the American political arena are so often plagued by distortion and misunderstanding and makes the case that Americans can benefit by drawing lessons from Europe. The eight policy area case-study chapters focus on public policies in a range of salient fields: work–family reconciliation, health care, pensions, labor markets, immigration, climate change, transportation, and political reform. In each chapter, the authors explore what US citizens and policymakers can learn from a variety of European policies in that field. In the conclusion, Kent Weaver takes an overarching view, reflecting on the many obstacles to applying lessons from Europe in the United States and examining how and when—despite these obstacles—American policymakers might still use lessons from Europe in crafting policy. As I discuss in the introduction, the policy areas covered in this book are only a sampling of the many fields where Americans might usefully draw lessons from Europe. The book aims to open a discussion, not to close it. I hope the book will serve as an invitation to a way of thinking, inspiring readers to explore lessons from Europe in other policy areas of interest to them.


    This book is the culmination of a three-year series of events I organized as director of Rutgers University's Center for European Studies. The center hosted a number of guest speakers and a Jean Monnet Research Workshop on the theme of “Lessons from Europe,” bringing together the authors who eventually contributed to this volume. We benefited from the generous funding of the European Commission's Life Long Learning Programme through the Jean Monnet Chair I held here at Rutgers. We benefited also from funding from Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, Office of Undergraduate Education's Signature Course program, which helped bring outside speakers to visit the new Lessons from Europe course I developed around the themes explored in this book.

    I thank all of the contributors to the volume for their commitment to the project and for the outstanding chapters they have produced. Thanks goes also to a range of scholars and policymakers who contributed to the project in various ways, including Erik Bleich, Mark Blyth, Heather Boushey, James Bradbury, Thomas Brewer, Martin Bunzl, Sir Alan Collins, Rafaela Dancygier, Derek DeLia, Christian Egenhofer, Denny Ellerman, Frank Felder, Alexandra Filindra, Arne Jungjohann, Nathaniel Keohane, Julia Lynch, Per Kongsh⊘j Madsen, Ambassador Jarl Frijs-Madsen, David Mechanic, Michael Mehling, Bruce Mizrach, Xavier Prats Monné, Kimberly Morgan, Robert Noland, Olivier Pairault, William Rodgers, Patricia Roos, Pasi Sahlberg, Joseph Seneca, Friedo Sielemann, Carl Van Horn, Jane Waldfogel, and Thomas Zeltner. Special thanks also to the staff of the Center for European Studies, Susanna Treesh, Amanda Marziliano, and Erin Heidt-Forsythe, who organized events in connection with the project, and to Alexander Jakubow who provided extensive editorial assistance on the book. Thanks also to the scholars who took such great care in reviewing the manuscript for CQ Press: Daniel Allen, Anderson University; Mark Ferguson, University of Alabama; Maria Garcia-Acevedo, California State University, Northridge; Marianne Githens, Goucher College, and two anonymous reviewers; and to my editor at CQ Press, Charisse Kiino, who shared my enthusiasm for the manuscript and offered helpful advice in crafting the final version. Finally, a great thanks to the hundreds of students who have taken my Lessons from Europe course in recent years; their enthusiasm for learning from Europe provided a constant source of inspiration as we completed this project.

    R. Daniel KelemenPhiladelphia, July 20, 2013

    Note: This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the commission cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

    About the Contributors

    Lawrence D. Brown is Professor of Health Policy and Management in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. A political scientist, he got a Ph.D. in government at Harvard University in 1973. After positions at Harvard, the Brookings Institution, and the University of Michigan, in 1988 he came to Columbia, where he chaired the Department of Health Policy and Management for ten years and the university's Public Policy Consortium for three years. He is the author of Politics and Health Care Organizations: HMOs as Federal Policy (Brookings Institution, 1983) and of articles on the political dimensions of community cost containment, expansion of coverage for the uninsured, national health reform, the role of analysis in the formation of health policy, and cross-national health policy. Mr. Brown edited the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law for five years, has served on several national advisory committees for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has an RWJ Investigators in Health Policy award, and is a member of the Institute of Medicine.

    Ralph Buehler is an Associate Professor in the Urban Affairs & Planning at Virginia Tech's Alexandria Center. Most of his research has an international comparative perspective, contrasting transport and land-use policies, transport systems, and travel behavior in Western Europe and North America. His research interests fall into three areas: (1) the influence of transport policy, land use, socio-demographics on travel behavior; (2) bicycling, active travel, and public health; and (3) and public transport demand, supply, financial efficiency, and policy

    Frank J. Convery is Senior Fellow and chairman of the board of the UCD Earth Institute, University College, Dublin. He was educated at University College Dublin and the State University of New York and has degrees in forestry and resource economics. Prior to taking up his post at UCD, he was Assistant and then Associate Professor of Natural Resource Economics at Duke University, USA and Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Ireland. Frank Convery has been active on a number of EU wide investigations and bodies, including membership of the Science Committee of the European Environment Agency and Honorary President of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists. He has written extensively on resource and environmental economics issues with particular reference to the use of market based instruments for environmental policy.

    Janet C. Gornick is Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is also Director of LIS (formerly, the Luxembourg Income Study), a cross-national data archive and research center located in Luxembourg. Most of her research is comparative, across the industrialized countries, and concerns social welfare policies and their impact on family wellbeing and gender equality. She is co-author or co-editor of three books: Families That Work: Policies for Reconciling Parenthood and Employment (Russell Sage Foundation 2003); Gender Equality: Transforming Family Divisions of Labor (Verso Press 2009); and Income Inequality: Economic Disparities and the Middle Class in Affluent Countries (Stanford University Press 2013). She has published articles on gender, employment, and social policy in several journals, including the American Sociological Review; the Annual Review of Sociology; the Socio-Economic Review; the Journal of European Social Policy; the European Sociological Review; Social Science Quarterly; Monthly Labor Review; and Feminist Economics.

    Ariane Hegewisch is a Study Director with responsibility for issues of workplace discrimination, workforce development and work-life reconciliation, at the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, DC. She is a specialist in com parative human resource management, with a focus on policies and legislative approaches to facilitate greater work life reconciliation and gender equality, in the US and internationally. Prior to coming to the USA she taught comparative European human resource management at Cranfield School of Management in the UK where she was a founding researcher of the Cranet Survey of International HRM, the largest independent survey of human resource management policies and practices, covering 40 countries worldwide. She has published many papers and articles and co-edited several books, including Women, Work and Inequality: The Challenge of Equal Pay in a Deregulated Labour Market.

    Steven Hill is a writer, columnist and political professional based in the United States with two decades of experience in politics. He is a frequent speaker at academic, government, NGO and business events, speaking on a wide range of topics related to politics, economics, climate change, global complexity, geo-strategy and trends. Mr. Hill is the author, most recently, of Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope for an Insecure Age (www.EuropesPromise.org), published in January 2010. His previous books include 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy, Whose Vote Counts(with Rob Richie) and Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take All Politics. Mr. Hill is a prolific writer and commentator who has been widely published and quoted in media around the world. Mr Hill has also appeared on international, national and local radio and television programs, and he has lectured widely in the United States and Europe. His website is www.Steven-Hill.com.

    R. Daniel Kelemen is Professor of Political Science and Jean Monnet Chair at Rutgers University. His research interests include the politics of the European Union, law and politics, comparative political economy, and comparative public policy. He is author of two books — Eurolegalism: The Transformation of Law and Regulation in the European Union (Harvard University Press, 2011) and The Rules of Federalism: Institutions and Regulatory Politics in the EU and Beyond (Harvard University Press, 2004), as well as over forty book chapters and articles, and he is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics (Oxford University Press, 2008). He serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of European Public Policy and West European Politics and is a former member of the Executive Committee of the European Union Studies Association. Prior to Rutgers, Kelemen was Fellow in Politics, Lincoln College, University of Oxford. He has been a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, a Fulbright Fellow in European Union Studies at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, and he is currently a Fellow of the Program in Law and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

    Mitchell A. Orenstein is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. A scholar of international affairs and European politics, Orenstein is best known for his work on the political economy of policy reform in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989, pension privatization globally since the 1990s, and the diffusion of neoliberalism. He is the author of Out of the Red: Building Capitalism and Democracy in Postcommunist Europe (Michigan, 2001), Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle (World Bank 2005; coauthors Dena Ringold and Erika Wilkens), and Pension Privatization: The Transnational Campaign for Social Security Reform (Princeton 2008). His articles have appeared in Governance, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Democracy, Post-Soviet Affairs, and International Social Security Review. He is also Chair of the Executive Committee of the new Center for International Affairs and World Cultures at Northeastern University.

    John Pucher is a Professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Pucher has conducted research on a wide range of topics in transport economics and finance, including numerous projects for the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Canadian government, and various European ministries of transport. For almost three decades, he has examined differences in travel behavior, transport systems, and transport policies in Europe, Canada, and the USA. Over the past twelve years, Pucher's research has focused on walking and bicycling. His international comparative analysis has included Australia, Canada, the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and several other European countries. He has published 35 articles and book chapters on walking and cycling and given over a hundred featured talks, keynote addresses, and conference talks on this subject.

    Martin Schain is Professor of Politics at New York University. Among other books, he is the author of The Politics of Immigration in France, Britain and the United States: A Comparative Study, second edition (Palgrave, 2012), French Communism and Local Power (St. Martin's, 1985), and co-author of Politics in France (HarperCollins, 1992). He is co-editor and author of Comparative Federalism: The US and EU in Comparative Perspective (Oxford, 2006) and Shadows Over Europe: The Development and Impact of the Extreme Right in Europe (Palgrave, 2002). Professor Schain is the founder and former director of the Center for European Studis at NYU and former chair of the European Union Studies Association. He is co-editor of the transatlantic scholarly journal, Comparative European Politics.

    Tobias Schulze-Cleven is Assistant Professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University. He specializes in the comparative political economy of labor market and education reforms in advanced democracies, studying both the drivers and the consequences of contemporary institutional changes. His current book project analyzes changes in labor market policy in Europe, focusing in particular on the role of unions in shaping national processes of adaptation in Germany and Denmark. Professor Schulze-Cleven's research has been published in journal articles, book chapters, and newspapers. His work has been supported by fellowships from Harvard's Labor and Worklife Program, Germany's Max Planck Society, and the University of California's Labor and Employment Research Fund.

    R. Kent Weaver joined the Georgetown Public Policy Institute as Professor of Public Policy in the fall of 2002, after 19 years at the Brookings Institution. Weaver's major fields of interest are American and comparative social policy, comparative political institutions, and the politics of expertise. He is particularly interested in understanding how political institutions, past policy choices, and the motivations of politicians interact to shape public policy choices. Much of his work has attempted to understand when and why politicians undertake actions that appear to offer more political risks than rewards, and how they attempt to avoid blame when they do so. He is currently completing a book on what the United States can learn from the experiences of other advanced industrial countries in reforming their public pension systems. He is also writing another book on how states have implemented welfare reform legislation in the United States.

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