Sessione 15

Social Investment in Post-Crisis Southern Europe. Political Viability, Multi-level Governance and Socioeconomic Challenges

Coordinatori di sessione: Anton Hemerijck (European University Institute), Stefano Ronchi (University of Milan) and Gemma Scalise (University of Bergamo)


Testo della Call

The session will be held in English. However, we accept also papers written in Italian).

Social investment has increasingly gained purchase as a policy strategy to make welfare states keep up with the challenges raised by globalisation, postindustrial transformations and, more recently, by the Great Recession (Morel et al. 2012; European Commission 2013; OECD 2014; World Bank 2016). To varying extents, most European countries have moved on towards social investment reform. Those that managed to combine inclusive social protection ‘buffers’, strong public commitments to raise and maintain lifelong human capital ‘stocks’, and employment- and family-friendly labour market ‘flows’ are the most successful both in terms of social inclusion and economic competitiveness (Hemerijck and Ronchi forthcoming; Kvist, 2013, 2015; OECD, 2015). In Southern Europe, by contrast, social investment has not yet taken root. Why is Italy, and Southern Europe alike, ‘no country for social investment’? Is there a viable way to reverse the trend with the waning of the euro crisis?

Four main reasons have been put forward in the literature to explain the delay of Southern Europe in respect to social investment reform:

 – Lack of strong political endorsement. On the side of the political demand, social investment seems to be particularly appreciated by (highly educated) middle classes (Garritzmann et al. 2018, Bremer forthcoming). At the EU-level and in the bulk of member states, Social Democratic parties, which have been notably realigning over middle-upper class constituencies (Gingrich and Häusermann 2015; Abou-Chadi and Immergut 2018), have been most active in translating such demands into actual SI reforms. Does South European social politics tell a different story? Also with the waning of the euro crisis, consumption-oriented social protection still takes priority over social investment reform in Southern Europe (Fernandes et al 2018, Vesan and Ronchi 2019; Giuliani 2019; Branco et al. 2019; Afonso and Bulfone 2019). This appears to be contingent on socio-political factors that still need to be better investigated, such as the general impoverishment of large cohorts of citizens, including the middle classes, the divisions within centre-left parties and the rise of anti-establishment parties (Vesan and Ronchi 2019).
 – Post-crisis austerity in the EMU. The euro crisis and the strengthening of the EMU (Economic and Monetary Union) governance under the fiscal compact have considerably tightened the fiscal space available for welfare innovation (De la Porte and Heins 2016). ‘Pervasive austerity’ hinders social investment reform in crisis-ridden South European countries (Pavolini et al. 2016; Theodoropoulou 2018), where that would be most needed to bolster the financial sustainability of strongly imbalanced welfare states. In today’s multi- tiered EU, this predicament risks backfiring onto the same (un-)sustainability of the euro. Has social investment reform made its way through austerity in Southern Europe today, ten years after the outbreak of the euro crisis? Have the various attempts at ‘socializing’ the European economic governance (Zeitlin and Vanhercke 2014) favoured social investment recalibration despite fiscal consolidation priorities?
 – Adverse structural conditions. Social investment does not find a fertile socioeconomic ground in Southern Europe. Even when social investment reforms are pursued despite post-crisis austerity, their effectiveness risks being jeopardised ‘endogenously’ by the lack of socioeconomic preconditions in many South European regions—most notably unfavourable labour demand structures and service-jobs precariousness (Kazepov and Ranci 2017; Maestripieri 2019). Apparently, supply-side social investments alone do not match with adequate (high-skilled) labour demand in Southern Europe. But are there exceptions to this predicament? What policy mixes can lead to (quality) employment gains in Southern Europe?
 – Limited institutional capacity and territorial fragmentation. While social protection ‘buffers’ and some ‘flow’ policies like employment regulation and leave policies are in most cases defined and provided nationally, the ‘capacitating’ services which form the backbone of social investment policy provision (Sabel et al., 2017)—education, activation programmes attached to minimum income benefits, care services, etc.— are provided locally. Given limited institutional capacity and strong geographical divides (e.g. Mezzogiorno in Italy), the local delivery and actual functioning of social investment policy complementarities is particularly difficult in Southern European peripheries. Although it remains under-researched, the multi-level governance of social investment becomes crucial in its manifold dimensions (Scalise and Hemerijck, forthcoming): the interaction between local welfare and more or less developed national-level social investment policy portfolios, the degree of discretionality left to subnational policy implementation, and the ‘horizontal coordination’ between public, private and ‘third sector’ actors in local service provision.

Against this background, we welcome submissions that focus – broadly speaking – on the following six thematic lines:

– The (different?) class and party politics of social investment in post-crisis Southern Europe;
– Anti-establishment parties and (non) social investment reform agendas;
– SI multi-level governance and the role of sub-national governments in social investment delivery;
– Social investment policy (in-)complementarities in the adverse socioeconomic fabric of South European regions;
– Patterns of social investment policy convergence and divergence between Southern European regions
– The impact of post-crisis EMU governance on Southern SI and how this might backfire onto the (un-)sustainability of the Euro
– We welcome submissions that adopt qualitative and/or quantitative methods to tackle these questions. Papers presenting comparative analyses – covering more than one country/region and/or policy sector – and case studies addressing the aforementioned topics are both equally welcome. Abstracts should state clearly the research question that the author(s) seek to address; the methodology they plan to employ; and – if available – any preliminary results.


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