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 confronts 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 explain varied patterns? What are the limitations and even side effects of popular solutions to improving equality, such as increasing education and poverty alleviation? Do we observe a fair representation of societal diversity with respect to gender, class and ethnicity? 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. The COVID pandemic has both exposed deep cracks in social security but also resilience in European social safety nets. Similarly, Europeans express rather deep commitments to solidarity across Europe, despite regular flare-ups of nationalism. It is time for a re-assessment of the need for welfare state change and the impact of national versus European politics and public opinion on policy capabilities for change. What is the scope for a successful transition towards a European welfare state fit for the purpose for post-industrial knowledge economy in ageing societies? In an incremental but transformative fashion, European integration has fundamentally recast the boundaries of national systems of social protection, constraining, on the one hand, the autonomy for domestic policy options, but, on the other, also opening opportunities for EU social policy complements to national welfare policies. Politically, however, the opportunities for upscaling welfare provision to the level of the EU should not be exaggerated. Electorates continue to hold national politicians accountable for socio-economic (mis-)fortune, not EU institutions. 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?