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News from EU research projects on SSH

This space is dedicated to coordinators who would like to announce their meetings, publications and books, major findings of their projects, etc.

Please send us your contributions for the next issue by 1 March 2005.

Main project findings

Improving Policy Responses and Outcomes to Socio-Economic Challenges: changing family structures, policy and practice (IPROSEC), 2000-2003 Project homepage

The IPROSEC project, coordinated by Linda Hantrais, brought together social scientists from eight EU Member States (France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, UK) and three of the then candidate countries (Estonia, Hungary, Poland), representing different waves of EU membership and welfare arrangements. The research was designed to inform policy by developing a greater understanding of socio-demographic change in Europe, the social and economic challenges such change presents, and the efficacy of the policy responses formulated by national governments and at EU level. The project was particularly concerned with changing family structures and relationships and their interface with policy. The project team analysed the policy process, inputs, outcomes and impacts, and assessed the potential for cross-border learning and policy development.

Comparative statistical analysis of socio-economic change (population decline and ageing, family structure, gender, intergenerational relations) showed that, in the closing decades of the 20th century, trends were generally moving in the same direction, but not all countries started from the same base, and change had occurred at a different rate and pace both between and within countries.

Although many of these challenges raised are similar, policy context analysis and interviews with policy actors, including family members, indicated that the approaches adopted by governments in response to change varied according to the policy environment, the political and economic climate and the legitimacy and social acceptability of state intervention in family life.

The IPROSEC countries fell into several clusters in terms of the historical development of policy targeting families, its design and structure, and the vehicles used for delivery:

  • At the one extreme, in France and Sweden, policy is highly structured and legitimised. Policy actors are strongly committed to supporting families.
  • At the other, in the southern European and CEE countries, policy is more hesitant, lacking in coherence and is under-resourced.

Between the two extremes are countries, including Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom, where the rhetoric is supportive of families, but where policy actors are often reluctant to intervene in private life. Universalistic, or "one-size-fits-all', solutions to socio-economic problems across Europe were not, therefore, found to be appropriate in the area of family life.

Comparative analysis of the research materials suggested a number of conditions that need to be met if policy is to be effective in responding to family change:

  • a family-friendly and supportive social environment, founded on the principles of equality of opportunity, social solidarity and vertical redistribution of resources;
  • economic security, based on a high level of employment and the guarantee of a living wage or minimum income, making work pay;
  • an equitable and consensual sharing of responsibilities between political, economic and civil society policy actors, with aims and objectives clearly communicated to the public;
  • effective mechanisms for funding, coordination across sectors, and implementation and delivery of a good standard of benefits and services;
  • public policy intervention in family life that commands widespread legitimacy, acceptability and confidence;
  • responsive and non-intrusive policy that goes with the grain of social change and complements family responsibilities.

Full details of this work, including a pdf version of a series of publications from the project (Cross-National Research Papers), can be found on: www.iprosec.org.uk

In addition to printed versions of the seven issues of Cross-National Research Papers, the following books have been published based on materials from the IPROSEC project:

  • Family Policy Matters: responding to family change in Europe, Linda Hantrais, Bristol, The Policy Press, April 2004.
  • Millist Perekonnapoliitikat Me Vajame? [What Family Policy does Estonia Need?], Dagmar Kutsar (ed.), Tartu, Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus, September 2003.

Family Life and Professional Work: conflict and synergy (FAMWORK), 2003-2005 - Project website

The "FamWork' project addresses the reconciliation of family and professional work responsibilities. The project takes a psychological perspective and focuses particularly on the modalities of balancing family and work demands among couples with young children in different European countries. It deals with the internal and external stressors and resources that influence the sharing modalities of young couples with pre-school children concerning two important life domains: family and work.

The project is a joint research endeavour by seven European research teams and is presently in the phase of data analysis. The data collection was based on a total sample of 1 400 couples with young children.

Besides socio-statistical data referring to specific historical and contemporary conditions of the participating nations, a core assessment battery of questionnaires was applied. In addition, an innovative assessment technique consisting of a computer-aided in vivo self-monitoring of couples was used to complement the data.

The findings of the project (available on the project's website) will provide valuable data that can be used for intervention purposes but also for political decision-making to implement appropriate infrastructural resources to ease external strains with which young parents are often confronted.

The importance of housing systems in safeguarding social cohesion in Europe (SOCOHO), 2001-2004 - Project website

The SOCOHO project, funded under the Fifth Framework Programme, was intended to investigate the challenges to the national housing systems resulting from the current crisis of social cohesion. By means of a comparative study it shows how the various housing systems respond to these challenges.

The approach adopted by the SOCOHO project combines an analysis of the European Household Panel data with supplementary research in six selected countries (Austria, France, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom). The following report presents the results at EU­15 level.

The SOCOHO findings show that the housing systems of the EU Member States are very important factors in the maintenance of social cohesion. Housing systems have a decisive impact on the risk of poverty and on the extent of social and ethnic segregation. Housing systems may ease or aggravate the households coping with the current transformation of family and demographic structures.

The SOCOHO findings also show that the general conditions created in the last decades at European level clearly limit the options open to the Member States in the area of housing policy. At national levels, restrictive budget policies were enforced, which led to reductions in housing subsidies. At the same time, step-by-step, the European Union has been promoting new relationships between the market, the state and institutions of the public sector of the economy (e.g. low-or non-profit housing organisations), which gradually reduced the impact of public bodies on housing market regulations. Thus, not only the economic basis, but the political basis of the housing policy too was undermined. In this way the European Union reduced the national housing systems' capacity to secure social cohesion.

To re-establish the action potential of the national housing policies, a new definition is necessary for the roles to be played by the market, the state and the social economy at European level. Therefore, in spite of the lack of a formal EU housing mandate, the strengthening of national housing policies to secure social cohesion would have deep consequences at European level.

Published reports and books as a result of this project:

  • The Importance of Housing systems in Safeguarding Social Cohesion in Europe (SOCOHO), Karl Czasny (ed), can be requested at: srz@srz-gmbh.com
  • Die Bedeutung des Wohnungswesens für den sozialen Zusammenhalt in Europa -Hauptergebnisse des SOCOHO-Projekts aus österreichischer Sicht, ISBN 3-85271-001-4 (German)
    SOCOHO website

Books from projects

  • Democracy in the European Union; Towards the Emergence of a Public Sphere, Giorgi, L, von Homeyer, I and Parsons, W (eds), London, Routledge (2005). Deliverable from the project EUROPUB o The European Public Space Observatory (2001-2004)
    EUROPUB website

  • Developing a Constitution for Europe, Eriksen, E O, Fossum, J E and José Menéndez, A (eds), London, Routledge (2004). Deliverable from the project CIDEL-Citizenship and Democratic Legitimacy in the EU (2002­2005)
    CIDEL website

  • European Families Up Against the Demands of Work and Care, Kröger, T and Sipilä, J (eds), Oxford & Malden, MA, Blackwell, (2005). Deliverable from the SOCCARE project (1999-2002). Published also as a special issue of Social Policy & Administration, 38 (6), December 2004
    SOCCARE website

  • Work Changes Gender, Men and Equality in the Transition of Labour Forms, Gärtner, M et al (eds), Barbara Budrich Publishers (2005). Deliverable from the project "Work changes gender' (2001-2004)
    "Work changes gender' website

  • Welfare Regimes and the Experience of Unemployment in Europe, Gallie, D and Paugam, S (eds), Oxford, Oxford University Press. Deliverable from the project cluster "Unemployment, work and welfare' (see summary under Book reviews, page 12)
    "Unemployment, work and welfare' website

  • European Collaboration in Research and Development Business Strategy and Public Policy, Caloghirou, Y, Vonortas, N and Ioannides, S (eds), Edward Elgar, 2004. Deliverable from the RJVs project (1991-2001) (see summary under Book reviews, page 12)
    RJV website