Scientific Programme Coordinator Ellen Immergut to Give State of the Union Address “Welfare State Futures: What Role for Solidarity” at State of the Union Conference, 10-12 May 2018

Profile Picture Ellen Immergut  2
Scientific Programme Coordinator Ellen Immergut

Scientific Coordination Office: Prof. Immergut, you have been asked to give the State of the Union Address at this year’s State of the Union Conference. For those who don’t know the conference: What do we have to know about it?

Ellen Immergut: The State of the Union Conference is an annual event organized by the European University Institute. This year it will held for the 8th time. As the title suggests, the conference is concerned with the state of the European Union and addresses current challenges and developments within the EU. It does this by bringing together expertise from both academia and practitioners. What is especially particular about it is that the conference unites some extremely high-level attendees, such as presidents of the EU institutions and leaders of EU member states, with other European policy-makers, civil society representatives, business and opinion leaders, and academics.

Scientific Coordination Office: And what about the address that you will be giving?

Ellen Immergut: The State of the Union Address is an integral part of the conference programme and is usually delivered by a senior member of the European University Institute. I feel very honoured to be giving it this year. The specific theme of this year’s conference is solidarity. That is why my address will be on: “Welfare State Futures: What Role for Solidarity?”

Scientific Coordination Office: So your address will directly refer to the Welfare State Futures Programme. What does the address mean for WSF Programme?

Ellen Immergut: Well, first of all, the address is an opportunity to communicate WSF Programme research findings and their policy implications to stakeholders and policy-makers, including high-ranking political leaders. There are going to be several heads of state at this year’s conference, such as the President of Italy Sergio Mattarella, the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, the Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and the Greek President Prokopios Pavlopoulos. In addition, a lot of EU officials are going to be there, such as Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament, Jean Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Mario Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank. Last year, the conference brought together 2,100 participants, out of which 800 were delegates. Participants from 53 different countries attended the sessions. This in itself is a huge audience.

What adds to that is that the conference cooperates with some important press partners who also work to disseminate what happens there, such as El País, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata and the Financial Times. Last year, an estimated 6.58 million people saw online coverage of the SoU on international news websites. All the speeches are also streamed live and can be watched by anybody who is interested. Last year, 94 010 minutes of video footage were watched between 4-5 May 2017 alone. For the WSF Programme, this represents a unique opportunity to make our research findings known not only to a wide range of stakeholders, but also to a broader interested public. Indeed, as the SoU involves the stakeholders actively in the event, it is a good example of “active engagement,” which is seen as more effective than simply passing on findings to practitioners. Finally, the Address will serve to announce our Final Conference, which will take place in Florence only two weeks later, and which can be followed very easily in the web, and by invitation to those that express special interest, such as reporters, to whom I have been asked to make myself available for follow-up interviews.

Scientific Coordination Office: And to come back to the theme of the address itself: What can the WSF programme teach with reference to the conference theme?

Ellen Immergut: This year’s conference theme is “Solidarity in Europe,” which is intrinsically related to our WSF Programme’s focus on Welfare State Futures, and in particular on the challenges to Welfare States in the 21st century, such as globalization and technological change, the impact of large scale migration, and the need for social investment – just to name a few issues. Can European welfare states maintain their commitment to social solidarity under these conditions? Or has the idea of social solidarity itself become contentious?

In the WSF programme, I think that we can look especially to the Welfare State Attitudes Cluster for answers to the question of solidarity, since it focuses on ideas about deservingness, justice, and fairness. In this cluster, WSF researchers have raised questions about who supports redistribution, what determines attitudes to welfare among different groups, what people think about personal responsibility, and how increased ethnic diversity affects citizen’s willingness to support the welfare state. For example, the Deliberative Forums conducted by WelfSOC in Denmark, Germany, Norway, Slovenia and the United Kingdom, researchers asked people “What should the priorities of the government in [country] be for benefits and services in 2040?”. Two areas that they were especially interested in were immigration and intergenerational differences. While they found was that there is a high level of support across all countries for social investment, the way these are justified vary between welfare state regimes.

FPRWS uses experimental economics to find about how ideas about fairness and personal responsibility are connected. So they address the question of how people make moral decisions regarding welfare policies – what benefits should be cut? And with which method? In line with deservingness theory, they find that support for welfare schemes is lower if people are perceived as being responsible for their own plight. Interestingly – and in contrast to deservingness theory – here they find important international variation. Furthermore, they use lab experiments to see how people react under conditions of uncertainty, finding that people are more concerned with not withholding benefits or punishing people that might actually be deserving, than they are with mistakenly providing benefits or forgoing punishment for welfare cheats. Thus, people seem to be more compassionate than punitive.

Given the hot political contestation on migration these days, MIFARE’s, comparison of migrant’s and “natives” attitudes on welfare can help us understand the attitudes of future contributors and beneficiaries of European Welfare States. Indeed, the Migration Cluster’s projects are doing a fantastic job of countering political myths about migrants and detailing how the nature of inequality is changing in the current era. In fact, the main difficulty of my talk will be to limit it! There are so many relevant contributions from the WSF Programme … Hopefully this will generate interest in the Final Conference where these issues can be pursued in much more depth and where all Projects have a chance to present their important findings.

Scientific Coordination Office: Thank you, and good luck with the address!