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Are Europe's Welfare States Converging Towards a Unified Social Model? (CONVERGE)

Research project TA/00/36 (Research action TA)


Persons :

  • Dhr.  MARX Ive - Universiteit Antwerpen (UA)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/2/2009-30/8/2012
  • Mevr.  CANTILLON Bea - Universiteit Antwerpen (UA)
    Not-financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/2/2009-30/8/2012

Description :

The purpose of this project is to analyse both latent and intentional convergence and coordination mechanisms in the field of social policy in the European sphere, particularly as these impact on Belgian social policy. Is there any evidence for overall convergence and, if there is, what is the direction of that convergence ? Is it of a retrenchment / race-to-the-bottom kind, as is sometimes feared ? Or is any convergence more of a “contingent” or path dependent nature, and if so, what are the relevant institutional factors shaping these path dependencies? Are there countries that still manage to steer an atypical, divergent course, and if there are, what leads them to do so ? What is the position of Belgium in this context?

The theoretical context has several components. Despite the fact that social policy remains by and large a competency at the national and sub-national level, there are various reasons to believe that the scope for autonomous social policy formulation is increasingly constrained. First, increased economic integration and competition are widely thought to put constraints on nation states to pursue autonomous social policies, especially policies that are comparatively costly and hence may deter investors and profit-seeking companies. Second, increased mobility and exchange within the European sphere can be thought to promote policy isomorphism through mimicking and mutual policy emulation. Third, there is the potential impact of the Open Method of Coordination as this pertains to EU policy objectives in the field of employment and social policy. The latter process is especially important since it is an intentional and policy-driven one.
The added-value of the project is that it aims to a) theoretically develop and b) empirically test hypotheses and ideas that are entertained in the scientific literature as well as in public and political discourse, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques. The project will be methodologically innovating in that we will gauge convergence trends at the level of indicators that directly reflect policy intent (unlike social spending).
In seeking to obtain an empirically valid answer to the research questions listed, we strive to a) add to the scientific knowledge and debate on how advanced, particularly European welfare states are evolving and how they are coping with various external pressures and hence b) to add substance to the societal and policy debate on the same subject.


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