PARIS — Europe's vaunted "social model" is creaking. For the best part of the last half century, its blend of capitalist enterprise and social concern has made most of its citizens prosperous while sheltering the rest from misfortune.
But now, stagnant economies are consigning millions to joblessness and poor welfare states are betraying the promise of protection for all.
This series looks at three different social models in three countries, Britain, Finland, and France. Each in its own way is attempting to meet the challenges of globalization.
Can European governments still afford to guarantee social safety nets for the poor, the sick, and the aged? Can they afford not to do so, and still retain their claim to govern humanely?
"The stakes are high," warns Pekka Himanen, a young Finnish philosopher who has made his name dissecting his country's success. "If Europe does not succeed in creating a socially inclusive model of economic success, that will determine how globalization goes.
"If Europe does not keep its high values alive, this will be a very harsh world," Mr. Himanen worries.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called EU heads of state to a brainstorming summit this week at Hampton Court, a 16th-century royal palace, to discuss ways of adapting Europe's aging social model to the information age.
Fifty years ago, European ideals of social solidarity burned brightly enough to make high taxes seem a reasonable way of spreading wealth more equally. The state's role in narrowing society's gaps made big government inevitable and popular; it made life comfortable for almost everybody, so there wasn't much point in taking risks, especially if the rewards would be highly taxed.
That model may have suited an industrial-age, protectionist Europe where large companies faced little international competition and offered jobs for life, but it hardly suits the Europe of today. The debate over social models goes to the heart of how Europeans want to live - how they balance personal risk and security, what they expect the state to do for them and what they should do for themselves, and whether economic prosperity comes with a social price.