Does the European Union devote sufficient attention to social developments? Many people feel that it does not and consider Europe to be anything but socially minded. The current European Commission wants to change this. To this end, it has expressed emphatic support for an action plan to implement in its entirety the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), which is a solemn declaration that includes twenty admirable principles of social policy. EuSocialCit, which is the acronym for ‘The Future of European Social Citizenship’, is a research project which will help translate this intention into concrete policy measures.

The EuSocialCit project is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework programme for Research and Innovation. It is developed in response to the call for proposals with ID H2020-SC6-GOVERNANCE-04-2019, which centered upon the question of how to get to a more social and fair Europe, and spoke directly to the European Pillar of Social Rights.

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Social progress is a prominent objective in the European Union treaties. In the Treaty on the European Union, the EU is explicitly depicted as a highly-competitive ‘social market economy’, aimed at full employment and social progress, committed to combatting social exclusion and discrimination and promoting social justice and protection.

In November 2017, the presidents of the European Commission, Parliament and Council signed an interinstitutional proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), namely a list of 20 principles and social rights, divided into three chapters dedicated to ‘equal opportunities and access to the labour market’; ‘fair working conditions’; and ‘social protection and inclusion’, with the aim ‘to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems, […] for a renewed process of upward convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe’. Since then, the EPSR has become the backdrop for EU initiatives in the area of employment and social affairs and the guide for the renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe.

Overall, the EPSR offers a broader and comprehensive understanding of all the functions of the European welfare state model, ranging from traditional social protection measures to traditional social investment policies. In particular, the Pillar promotes policies addressed to raising and up-keeping the quality of the ‘stock’ of human capital and capabilities, emphasizes the importance of fair working conditions and (gendered) life-work course transitions, and stresses the necessity of strong minimum-income universal safety net.

In so doing, it contributes to redefine the role of the EU as a holding environment within which national welfare states can prosper. To this end the Pillar was designed as a compass for the renewed convergence, namely as a guide towards efficient employment and social outcomes when responding to current and future challenges which are directly aimed at fulfilling people’s essential needs, and towards ensuring better enactment and implementation of social rights.

Since the Pillar is not legally binding on its own, the Commission identified three main areas for the implementation of the Pillar’s principles: the regulatory, the coordinative and the redistributive. The main trust of the legislative provisions adopted in the framework of the Pillar contains a ‘blend of old and new elements’: it subsumes pre-existing legislative initiatives such as the three proposals on non-discrimination, proposes to replace existing measures (Work-Life Balance Directive to replace Directive 92/85/EEC on maternity protection and the 2010 Parental Leave Directive; Directive on Predictable and Transparent Working Conditions to replace the Written Statement Directive), and introduces genuinely novel actions (European Labour Authority).

In the coordinative arena, the Pillar contributed to a progressive reorientation of social and employment recommendations in the European Semester thanks to the introduction a new set of social indicators, an increased ownership and accountability, with the involvement – for the first time – of social partners, and, most importantly, more budgetary flexibility in the application of the rules of the stability and growth pact. Finally, the Commission integrated the Social Pillar in its proposal for the EU budget 2021-2027 presented in May 2018.

As regards the agenda of the newly appointed Commission, a look at the first months of the new von der Leyen Commission and at the first answer to the Covid-19 emergency seems to suggest that the Social Pillar is here to stay. Indeed, the Social Pillar has been formally indicated as the Commission’s instrument to deliver on its fundamental social objectives in the Communication on ‘A stronger Social Europe’. In this respect a new and ambitious social agenda has been launched, which includes an EU legal instrument to ensure that every worker has a fair minimum wage, the setting up of an European Child Guarantee to help that every child in Europe at risk of poverty has access to the most basic rights, a reinforced Youth Guarantee turned in a permanent instrument to fight youth unemployment, the creation of a European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme and the proposal of an instrument to improve the conditions of platform workers. EuSocialCit will closely monitor the implementation of the Social Pillar in all the three policy areas in which its principles unfold and will regularly report on the incumbent Commission social agenda.


If promoting social rights in all Member States is an explicit policy objective, it is necessary to address the enormous social differences between these Member States as well. Having a more socially just Europe also implies a stronger focus on preventing major socio-economic shocks and a better protection of citizens when such shocks occur. Ultimately, building a more socially just Europe not only requires to develop a notion of what European citizenship means, but also a vision on the kind of society in which citizenship can flourish. The challenge, in short, is thus to integrate the social dimension into European policy as a whole and to connect it to a clear understanding of what European citizenship means.

EuSocialCit provides scientific analysis in support of this challenge, and analyses both the arguments in favour of developing European social rights and the expectations of people across Europe. The project however will not be a purely theoretical study. It also provides alternative policy scenarios to strengthen European social citizenship by comparing and contrasting concrete policy scenarios for reinforcing European social citizenship.

Overall, EuSocialCit pursues the following five objectives:

  1. Synthesize the debate on the rationale for stronger EU social citizenship and develop a novel, resource-based, multi-level concept of social rights.
  2. Understand the current state of social rights in the EU, their relationship to social outcomes (social inequality, gender inequality, poverty, precariousness) and gaps in their functioning.
  3. Diagnose the shortcomings of the existing institutional structure that generates undesirable outcomes in terms of empowerment, fair working conditions, social inclusion and gender equality.
  4. Understand the social and political demand for change among citizens, their attitudes and preferences, and the constraints and opportunities these demands, attitudes and preferences create for advancing the EU social agenda.
  5. Develop alternative policy scenarios to strengthen social rights and EU social citizenship, in particular to support the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Amongst the 29 papers, reports and policy briefs that the EuSocialCit project will publish, there are two flagship reports.  The first is called The State of Social Rights and European Social Citizenship. It will be a synthetic report that brings together all of the project’s empirical research on social rights in the EU. The second is called The Future of Social Rights and European Social Citizenship: A Study of Alternative Policy Scenarios. The focus of this report is on future policy. It explores questions that follow from the idea that social rights are part of European citizenship and addresses shortcomings and possible improvements to the exercising of social rights in light of citizen perceptions and preferences. It will present a series of alternative policy scenarios, discuss criteria for the definition of policy priorities, and also the substance, feasibility and location within the EU’s multi-level governance structure of various policy options that can respond to the shortcomings and demands identified in the first report on the existing state of rights and European social citizenship.

Key concepts

EuSocialCit engages in extensive empirical analysis of how European citizens have been exercising their social rights in the recent past. It will do so not only by studying legal norms (the ‘hard’ component of rights), but also – in Weberian fashion – by examining the power resources that are at least potentially conferred on citizens as rights holders. Here, we distinguish at least three distinct types of power resources which back the actual exercise of any right:

  1. Normative resources (as included in legislation, but also in public declarations of broadly shared principles like the EPSR)
  2. Enforcement resources (to activate legal coercion when others do not comply with the norm)
  3. Instrumental resources (or the availability of the practical conditions necessary for the full exercise or enactment of rights, such as information, support services for accessing rights, dispute settlement, etc.)

Within the multi-level governance structure of the EU, these resources are also developed at various levels. This makes, in effect, rights themselves become multi-level concepts, with some resources supporting social rights being located at EU level, and others at national and local levels.

Building on this resource-based multi-level concept of social rights, EuSocialCit‘s analysis of how European citizens have been exercising their social rights thus comprises an examination of the role played by all three types of resources at the EU, national and local levels. Only in this way, the project claims, can we get to a complete picture of the extent to which social rights are indeed comprehensively available to EU citizens and, also, get to understand the (potential) role of the EPSR and how it can be complemented by the provision of other resources at the national and local levels.

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The project address both the objective (relationship between existing risks and needs, institutions and policies, and outcomes) and subjective (perceptions, preferences and attitudes of EU citizens) dimensions of the questions of how European citizens have been exercising their social rights in the recent past; of social outcomes like social inequality, gender inequality, poverty and precariousness; of the role played by EU member states in securing social rights; and of the role played by the EU.

By focusing on both the objective and subjective dimension of social rights, EuSocialCit examines not only the state of citizenship, but also the socio-political bases for reform of EU and national policies fostering social citizenship.


The objective dimension


Analysis of the objective dimension focuses on three substantive domains critical to improving people’s life chances in the face of ongoing transformations and to the elaboration of effective institutional responses:


– Effective empowerment through social investment

– Fair working conditions through labour market policies

– Inclusion through adequate benefits and affordable, quality services


In each of these domains, the project pursues a sequence of specific research goals:


1) Mapping the state of affairs in terms of both risks and needs (with a focus on the last decade) and the institutional structure (social rights and policies, including EU actions).

2) Analysis of outcomes: what are the observable trends in terms of inequality, poverty and precariousness indicators? Who are the losers in the new constellation of risks and opportunities?

3) Diagnosis of existing shortcomings. What are the gaps and flaws of the existing institutional structure that generate undesirable outcomes in terms of empowerment, fair working conditions, social inclusion and gender equality?

4) The agenda for possible improvements. What are the policy priorities and scenarios (at the domestic and EU levels) for meeting needs and providing fairness, empowerment and inclusion?

5) How can the European Pillar of Social Rights play a role?


This thematic research will be supported by the compilation of a comprehensive dataset on a broad range of measures of policy outputs (primarily patterns of public spending) and outcomes, all relevant to an objective assessment of the ‘state of social rights’ across Europe. When compiling our dataset, EuSocialCit distinguishes between different types of social spending to capture the different dimensions of social citizenship, and complement spending data for all EU member states3 with other measures of policy output such as indicators of welfare state generosity and data on socio-economic outcomes (inequality, economic growth and social well-being).


The subjective dimension


Examining the subjective dimension involves studying the opinions, preferences and attitudes of EU citizens towards social rights and the European Union to identify the profile of the demands for change and reforms. It will contribute to identifying opportunities and constraints for furthering the EU social agenda and implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights.

This part of the project answers two questions:


1) How do EU citizens perceive existing social rights and outcomes? Are perceptions and attitudes aligned with the actual distribution of risks?

2) What is the degree of satisfaction and dissatisfaction among EU citizens and what do they “demand” and prefer in terms of policy priorities?


In addressing these questions, EuSocialCit consolidates the goldmine of information in existing, multi-country public opinion survey data – both off-the – shelf datasets like the European Social Survey (ESS), the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and Eurobarometer, as well as original datasets that we ourselves have already designed and (partially) analysed.

While these survey instruments contain batteries of questions relevant to aspects of social citizenship, they have not been brought together and analysed for what they say about the specific issues related to the three pillars of social citizenship: equal opportunities and labour-market access, fair working conditions, and social inclusion/protection. We will enrich the results of our quantitative research by organising a series of focus groups to deepen our understanding of citizens’ perceptions about, attitudes towards, and demands regarding European social citizenship.

Work packages

EuSocialCit is both an academic and policy-oriented research project. Alongside a work package on management (WP1) and on dissemination and communication (WP7), it is composed out of five substantive work packages (WPs 2-6). Each of these five work packages has its own objectives, methods and analytic framework, and produce their own – yet correlated – outcomes that each speak to different target groups.

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Work package 2 “Social citizenship in Europe and the role of the EU: conceptual framework, state of play and scenarios for improvement”


The substantive work of EuSocialCit starts with theoretical work on the rationale for stronger EU social citizenship and a novel, resource-based, multi-level conception of social rights. This is one of the core tasks for WP2. Throughout the project, WP2 will integrate the empirical findings of WPs 3-6 (each focusing on of the three domains under study, see also below) in its analysis to produce our two flagship reports: The State of Social Rights and European Social Citizenship and The Future of Social Rights and European Social Citizenship: A Study of Alternative Policy Scenarios.


Work package 3 “Empowerment through social investment”


Together with the WPs 4 and 5, WP 3 is one of the domain-centred work packages. It focuses on social rights that are associated with the aspiration of empowerment: rights that enable citizens not only to fully share in the social heritage, but also to further develop this heritage. Hence, WP3 examines policies that are commonly captured by the notion of social investment. This focus mirrors the substance of the principles belonging to the first chapter of the EPSR (equal opportunities and access to the labour market). Its main objective is to understand how and to what extent SI policies contribute to the empowerment of citizens by providing normative, enforcement and instrumental resources.

The work in this WP consists, firstly, of performing a cluster analysis to identify SI models and their evolution since 2008. Second, it will analyse how the EU has influenced domestic policies in the various SI models, in particular in the areas related to the EPSR. Third, it will examine outcomes in terms of inequality, the risk of poverty and social exclusion at early stages of the life course and of access to education, training and the labour market, as well as shortcomings in the existing institutional structure and policies. Fourth and finally, WP3 will discuss policy options to strengthen the empowerment of EU citizens through SI.


Work package 4 “Fair working conditions through labour market policy”


WP 4, the second “domain-centered” work package, focuses on fairness. More specifically, it focuses on how the European Union supports member state governments and social partners in developing and delivering on social rights in relation to labour market policy (1), in work-life balance (2), in atypical work (3), and in health and safety at the workplace (4). Special attention will be paid to gender differences in policy output (and outcome).

Its focus on labour market policies consists of a quantitative analysis of all EU countries, while the other three foci include in-depth case analyses on a selection of countries, representing different political economies within the EU.


Work package 5 “Inclusion through social policy”


This WP analyses social rights in relation to the principles in the ‘social protection and inclusion’ cluster of the EPSR. Core diagnoses undergirding this WP5 are the long-lasting trend of poverty in many EU welfare states and for particular groups, and the increased disparities between member states and structural inadequacies of social protection for the most vulnerable. WP5’s central questions are (1) what the role of the EU has been in delivering social rights for social protection and inclusion to all EU citizens, and (2) what improvements can and should be made.

The focus of the WP is on minimum incomes sensu lato, social protection and housing. It will provide, among others, an in-depth examination of the reasons for the failures of anti-poverty strategies in the past and identify more effective policy packages for the future, based on an innovative set of policy indicators. Next to that, it examines how the European Union in general, and the European Social Fund and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived in particular, can better support the member states in guaranteeing the right to adequate minimum income benefits and effective access to enabling goods and services, while it also studies the role that the European Union can and should play in relation to national and local anti-poverty initiatives.


Work package 6 “Listening to the Citizens: Public opinion on European social citizenship”


WP6 combines in-depth examination of the subjective dimension of social rights with the quantitative analysis of policy outputs and outcomes for all EU member states, linked to the realms of social rights as analysed in WP3-5. It (1) analyses the attitudes of (groups of) EU citizens concerning existing social rights and outcomes and evaluate to what extent citizen attitudes are aligned with the actual distribution of risks; and (2) identifies the degree of satisfaction and dissatisfaction among EU citizens and their demands and preferences for policies, as well as opportunities and constraints for the EU social agenda. WP6 thus contributes to the identification of policies that can respond to the demands of EU citizens relevant to empowerment, fairness and social inclusion.