Anton Hemerijck Joins the EC’s High-Level Group on the Future of Social Protection and of the Welfare State

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EUI Professor and WellSIRe Principal Investigator Anton Hemerijck has been invited as a member of the newly formed European Commission’s High-Level Group on the Future of Social Protection and of the Welfare State. The group, chaired by the Former European Commissioner Anna Diamantoupolou, aims to stimulate the adaptation of modern welfare states to some of the main transformations of our era, including demographic ageing, globalization, the green transition and labour market change. The goal of the High-Level Group is also to expand coverage against the new social risks, such as early-age poverty, education gaps and youth unemployment.

These themes are at the center of the WellSIRe project (acronym for “Wellbeing Returns on Social Investment Recalibration”), the European Research Council Advanced Grant that tracks how welfare states have been functionally restructured over the past two decades in order to develop better human capital stock, ease gender-balanced life-course flow transitions and provide inclusive social protection buffers. The project also looks at complementarities between policy instruments and their returns on micro- and macro-level wellbeing. There is a clear synergy between WellSIRe and the High-Level Group set up by the European Commission, with the hope to provide solid evidence and analyses in support of future-oriented social policymaking.

This initiative is ever more meaningful in the light these extraordinary times. “The existential nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, as it laid bare human frailty, has turned into an indisputable reappraisal of the European welfare state”, comments Anton Hemerijck. According to the Professor, the crisis has made clear how measures such as furlough schemes and healthcare expansion were crucial to save lives and livelihoods, while buying precious time to develop effective vaccines. At the same time, it has underscored how welfare states must now respond to multi-dimensional needs and challenges, which may go well beyond social security of the Fordist era. Work-family reconciliation, life-long learning and social inclusion are only some of the issues that have come to the fore and are at the center of the reform agenda in many countries.

According to Hemerijck, the timing is “perfect” for at least two other reasons. First, the WellSIRe advanced grant can now count upon the efforts, expertise and enthusiasm of a great team of researchers: 4 post-docs, 3 PhDs, and at least 10 EUI supervisees who work on welfare reforms across the European Continent. Secondly, he is about to publish two books that are very relevant to the work of the High Level Group: Resilient Welfare States in the European Union, co-authored with Robin Huguenot-Noel (Agenda Publishing), and Who’s Afraid of the Welfare State Now? Lessons from the Great Recession for a Post-Covid Social Contract, co-edited with Manos Matsaganis (Oxford University Press).

Hemerijck finally remarks how “the EU can at times be ambiguous about the European Model of Societies and the social market economy, which terms also feature in the treaties. It’s quite a statement, and a positive one, that the new expert group, led by Anna Diamantoupolou has the term ‘welfare state’ in the title, as something to cherish, I believe”.