From austerity to permanent strain? The EU and welfare state reform in Italy and Spain

Abstract

This article makes a comparative analysis of the trajectories of welfare change in Italy and Spain since the outbreak of the financial crisis. We look at the differences in the types of institutional design to study of welfare reform in these two countries and assess how recent changes have affected welfare state institutions. The article also assesses the level of EU involvement not only through formal instruments around the European Semester, but also by means of agreements with the Troika and the European Central Bank. For this part of the analysis three sets of documents have been used: Commission Recommendations and Council Decisions in relation to Excessive Deficit Procedures; Commission country-specific recommendations based on Stability or Convergence Programmes; and Policy Measures to boost growth and jobs (National Reform Programmes). These documents allow an analysis of the contents of formal adjustment pressures. Other documents and sources (including newspaper articles) have also been analysed in order to look at the role of conditionality and ‘backroom’ diplomacy.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    The interpretation of welfare policy changes based on retrenchment has been deeply criticized by Pierson (2001). Analyzing British and the US government social spending trends, Pierson found that not only it did not decline, but instead it grew at a faster rate than the economy as a whole. Thereafter welfare state resilience has become a relevant but also a contested concept.

  2. 2.

    Berlusconi’s weak position was the result of an increasing loss of legitimacy in the domestic arena because of scandals and the difficulties with his main ally in government, the Northern League, which was against a pension’s reform (de la Porte and Natali, 2014).

  3. 3.

    In the two European Council meetings and in the summit of the heads of state and government of the Eurozone in the Autumn 2011, the EU institutions and various Governments (especially the French and German) insistently asked Italy to make further efforts in implementing structural reforms, expressing at the same time scepticism over Berlusconi’s capacity to deliver them.

  4. 4.

    The data on public opinion were retrieved from the ‘Eurobarometer interactive search system’ on the European Commission web page.

References

  1. Ascoli, U. and Pavolini, E. (2012) Ombre rosse. Il sistema di welfare italiano dopo 20 anni di riforme. Stato e Mercato 94 (3): 429–464.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Basile, R. (2011) Tagli al welfare. C’è un futuro per le politiche sociali? Rivista delle Politiche Sociali 12 (3): 543–558.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bonoli, G. and Natali, D. (eds.) (2012) The Politics of the New Welfare State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. CES, Consejo Económico y Social (2011) Memoria sobre la situación socioeconómica y laboral. Madrid, Spain: CES.

  5. de Haan, J., Berger, H. and Jansen, D. (2004) Why has the stability and growth pact failed? International Finance 7 (2): 235–260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. de la Porte, C. and Heins, E. (2015) A new era of European integration? Governance of labour market and social policy since the sovereign debt crisis. Comparative European Politics 13 (1): 8–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. de la Porte, C. and Natali, D. (2014) Altered Europeanization of pension reform during the Great Recession: Denmark and Italy compared. West European Politics 37 (4): 732–749.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. European Commission (2009a) Recommendation for a Council Decision on the Existence of an Excessive deficit in Spain SEC (2009) 561 final, 24 March, Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.

  9. European Commission (2009b) Recommendation for a Council Recommendation to Spain with a view to bringing an end to the situation of an excessive government deficit SEC (2009) 562, 24 March, Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.

  10. European Commission (2010) Communication from the Commission to the Council. Assessment of the action taken by Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia in response to the Council Recommendations of 2 December 2009 with a view to bringing an end to the situation of excessive government deficit, 15 June, Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.

  11. Eurostat (2012–2014) ESSPROS Database. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.

  12. Ferrera, M. (2012) Verso un welfare più europeo? Conclusione. In: M. Ferrera, V. Fargion and M. Jessoula (eds.) Alle radici del welfare all’italiana. Venezia, Italy: Marsilio, pp. 323–344.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Ferrera, M., Hemerijck, A. and Rhodes, M. (2000) The Future of Social Europe. Oeiras, Portugal: Celta Editora.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Guillén, A.M. and León, M. (eds.) (2011) The Spanish Welfare State in European Context. Farham, UK: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Hall, P. (1993) Policy paradigms, social learning, and the state: The case of economic policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics 25 (3): 275–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Istat (2013a) Spesa per la protezione sociale. Rome, Italy: Istat.

  17. Istat (2013b) Spesa delle Amministrazioni pubbliche per funzione. Rome, Italy: Istat.

  18. Jenson, J. (2008) Children, new social risks and policy change: A lego future? Comparative Social Research 25 (1): 357–382.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Jessoula, M. and Pavolini, E. (2012) Italy Annual National Report 2012: Pensions, Health and Long-term care. Annual ASISP report for DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.

  20. Maino, F. and Neri, S. (2011) Explaining welfare reforms in Italy between economy and politics: External constraints and endogenous dynamics. Social Policy & Administration 45 (4): 445–464.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. MINHAP (2013) Presupuestos Generales del Estado 2013. Informe Económico-financiero. Madrid, Spain: MINHAP.

  22. Morel, N., Palier, B. and Palme, J. (eds.) (2012) Towards a Social Investment Welfare State? Ideas, Policies and Challenges. Bristol and Chicago: The Policy Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Naldini, M. and Saraceno, C. (2008) Social and family policies in Italy: Not totally frozen but far from structural reforms. Social Policy & Administration 42 (7): 733–748.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Natali, D. (2011) Le politiche pensionistiche. In: U. Ascoli (ed.) Il welfare in Italia. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, pp. 57–77.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Palier, B. (ed.) (2010) A Long Good – Bye to Bismarck: The Politics of Welfare Reforms in Continental Welfare States. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Pavolini, E. and Guillén, A.M. (eds.) (2013) Health Care Systems under Austerity. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Pierson, P. (1998) Irresistible forces, immovable objects: Post-industrial welfare states confront permanent austerity. Journal of European Public Policy 5 (4): 539–560.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Pierson, P. (ed.) (2001) The New Politics of the Welfare State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Ranci, C. and Pavolini, E. (eds.) (2013) Reforms in Long-Term Care Policies in Europe. Investigating Institutional Change and Social Impacts. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Romero, J.M. (2010) Dos minutos que cambiaron a España. El Pais, http://bit.ly/12i2Fty, accessed 17 May 2014.

  31. Sacchi, S. (2015) Conditionality by other means: EU involvement in Italy’s structural reforms in the sovereign debt crisis. Comparative European Politics 13 (1): 77–92.

  32. Saraceno, C. and Keck, W. (2011) Towards an integrated approach for the analysis of gender equity in policies supporting paid work and care responsibilities. Demographic Research 25 (4): 371–406.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Streeck, W. and Thelen, K. (eds.) (2005) Beyond Continuity. Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Taylor-Gooby, P. (2004) New Risks, New Welfare. The Transformation of the European Welfare State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Emmanuele Pavolini.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pavolini, E., León, M., Guillén, A. et al. From austerity to permanent strain? The EU and welfare state reform in Italy and Spain. Comp Eur Polit 13, 56–76 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/cep.2014.41

Download citation

Keywords

  • welfare state reform under austerity
  • EU
  • European Central Bank
  • European Semester
  • Italy
  • Spain