French politicians have formed the good habit of searching beyond our borders for successful models in constitutional, economic and social matters. After the English, American, Japanese, German and Dutch models, the current vogue is once again “Europe’s northern countries” or the “Scandinavian model.” Anna Stellinger, former Director of the Fondation pour l’innovation politique’s Economy-Society Programme, presents her interpretation of this model.The French politicians’ enthusiasm for the “Scandinavian model” is based on a genuine misunderstanding. They are actually overlooking the structural reforms initiated by these countries in the 1990s — reforms that handed over many of the tasks previously carried out by the State to external economic and social organisations, institutions and businesses.

The Scandinavian example is regularly taken out of context and its successes erroneously interpreted. Providing “occupational welfare benefits,” for example, is the responsibility of companies, not of the State. The same lack of clarity has led to misconstruing laws pertaining to job protection, which are fewer in Scandinavia than in France. Indeed, rather than adopt “work sharing” schemes, Scandinavian countries have chosen to develop labour market activation policies. Employment mobility is a priority, as is ensuring that young people, women and seniors remain employed. This is conditional upon providing strong social protection, as well as reducing job protection and stability.
Scandinavian countries’ economic and social success is not attributable to a Welfare State led by a renowned figure such as Olof Palme, but to constitutional, economic and social reforms pursued over fifteen years: ensuring work for all population categories, promoting corporate accountability, relaxing regulations and redefining the Welfare State’s missions. The Scandinavian experience can, in this sense, provide examples for French policy to follow.