This Year’s Topic


This year the topic of the SPS Summer Academy is (In)equality, democracy and solidarity in Europe. Since the financial crisis and the recent pandemic, rising levels of income and wealth inequality have received increasing popular attention. In public debates, growing inequalities within and between countries are considered as important driving forces behind the rise of populism all over Europe, Brexit, and the illiberal political turns in Hungary and Poland. All of this and the overall implications of the current war in Ukraine confront the European Union (EU) and democracy altogether with an existential crisis.

How do we conceptualize and measure rising inequality? Which inequalities have increased? Seemingly, inequalities between countries are falling at the global level, while inequality, especially, within advanced OECD countries have been on a steady rise. What do we know about the drivers of (changing) inequality? How does inequality affect social mobility? What variation do we observe across countries and among risk-groups and how can we explain varied patterns? What are the limitations and even side effects of popular solutions to improving equality, such as increasing education and poverty alleviation? What are the trends in political participation? Do we observe a fair representation of societal diversity with respect to gender, class, ethnicity and age? What are the implications for the solidarity among these groups?

The intensity of early 21st century structural economic, technological and demographic change, affecting inequality, mobility, and citizens’ life chances and economic security, confronts policymakers with the imperative recalibration of national welfare states and to update and redesign policies and to elaborate new principles of social justice. Intergenerational conflicts are leading to growing fragmentation of party systems, which, in turn, lead to new challenges for governability and accountability. The COVID pandemic has both exposed deep cracks in social security but also resilience in European social safety nets. The unchecked propagation of misinformation on social media is thought to undermine democracy and solidarity within and between EU member states. Nonetheless, Europeans express rather deep commitments to solidarity across Europe, despite regular flare-ups of nationalism. Can Europe’s unique ‘double commitment’ to social citizenship solidarity at the level of the nation-state and ever deeper economic integration on the European plain be rescued in the years ahead?