Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 3 2008, page 8-23.
English resume

From labour market policy to employment policy

Only cosmetic changes or change of content?

Henning Jørgensen

Ideas and policy recipes travel. Labour market policy seems to have become popular in most places. The active labour mar-ket policy implemented in Denmark from 1994 as part of a new policy-mix of general economic policy and selective labour mar-ket policy measures has become renown because of the good results achieved and its place as one of the pillars in the Danish “flexicurity” arrangement. Denmark has the status of a role model for the rest of Eu-rope. Activation has been a success formula for reintegrating unemployed people into the open labour market and without do-ing damage to macro economic goals. The rationale of labour market policy was to build up capacities by the individual wage earner – e.g. skills and competences -, there-by bringing “the security of the wings” to every member of the labour force. Redistributional elements were part of the policy as well; it was seen as an arrangement of the welfare state that could secure a highly mobile labour market and give more resources and new changes to all people. It is wrong to think that it is the same kind of labour market policy now being conducted in Denmark. There has been not only a cosmetic change in name (“employment policy”) but also one of form and practice. Slowly, and without much political debate, the content of labour market policy in Denmark, as well as the processes behind the policy arrangements, has been recalibrated. A new rationale much more in accordance with “work fi rst”-principles and consisting of new supply side oriented elements has been installed. A balance between rights and duties for the unemployed was realized during the 1990es; but during the last five to six years and more discipline and punishment has been introduced. A kind of massage of the consciousness of the individual unemployed is now taking place in 91 new employment service centres as people learn to behave like wage earners with a strong work ethic. This is called a new “identity and behavioural policy”. Economic incentives are used instead of education and other activation measures, and both people on unemployment insurance benefits and people on social assistance are treated in ways that should make them understand that it is better to take up every kind of job offer made instead of going into activation and education. Redistributional elements have been screened out of the policy as well. The social partners were strong decision-makers during the 1990es but they have been excluded from the public steering bodies from 2007, now having only an advisory role to play. One can speak of a systemic change.

It is ironic, therefore, that the rest of Europe looks to Denmark both to learn and to imitate – e.g. having mimetic isomorphism established as to labour market policy – while Denmark has taken over a traditional supply-side edition of “employment policy” that is of little use to the rest of Europe and, actually, also a threat to Danish fl exicurity.