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Social Justice in the EU – A Cross-national Comparison, Social Inclusion Monitor Europe (SIM) – Index Report

Schraad-Tischler, D. & Krol, C. (2014) “Social Justice in the EU – A Cross-national Comparison, Social Inclusion Monitor Europe (SIM) – Index Report“, Bertelsmann Stiftung, Νοέμβριος.


Key findings, in brief

The growing social divide is a topic of much discussion these days. Certainly since the release of French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book, Capital in the 21st Century, the topic of this widening gap is on everyone’s lips. The comparison of all 28 member states of the European Union (EU) presented here clearly shows that the concept of social justice is realized to very different extents within the borders of the EU. In fact, EU countries vary considerably in their ability to create a truly inclusive society. Whereas the opportunities for every individual to engage in broad-ranging societal participation are best developed in the wealthy northern European countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, many other EU countries show what are at times massive deficiencies in this regard. Social injustice has once again clearly increased in recent years, most obviously in the crisis-battered southern European countries of Greece, Spain and Italy, as well as in Ireland and Hungary. However, a predominantly negative trend is also evident overall: In the majority of EU countries, the reach and scope of social justice has declined in the course of the crisis. Only three countries – Poland, Germany and Luxembourg – have proven able to improve significantly in comparison to the 2008 Social Justice Index.

The results of the country comparison in the most recent Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) survey (, as well as its underlying country reports, suggest that the rigid austerity policies pursued during the crisis and the structural reforms aimed at economic and budgetary stabilization have had, in most countries, negative effects with regard to social justice. Although there are at least mild signs of hope in the majority of EU countries that the worst economic woes have been overcome, core areas of social injustice remain mostly unaddressed, with no improvement in sight. On the contrary, social security systems have been badly undermined by austerity measures in many countries, as has the ability to invest in critical future-oriented policy areas such as education or research and development. Particularly in southern Europe, youth unemployment has climbed to ever-new record highs. The risk of poverty has also increased further as a result of the crisis. This applies especially to the younger generations, whereas poverty among older people has – from an EU-wide perspective – even been declining over the last years.

The gap between participation opportunities in the still-wealthy countries of northern Europe and in the crisis-struck southern nations has thus significantly increased. This is a highly explosive situation with regard to societal cohesion and social stability within the European Union. Should these social divisions persist for some time, or even worsen further, this will endanger the future viability of the entire European integration project. For this reason, a solution to this problem cannot be found solely within the national context. To be sure, it is primarily member-state governments that are being asked to steer the right course between the competing priorities of essential budgetary consolidation and equally essential investments in critical future-oriented policy areas. But the Europe-wide pressure of events demands action on the European level. This requires an EU-wide awareness of the problems of currently unsustainable and growing inequalities within the EU. In this context, the future socioeconomic strategy for the EU must be one that is not only concerned with the goal of budgetary consolidation and the resolution of the debt crisis, but also with the aim of combating social injustice within the Union. It ought to be a consistent and integrated strategy not only for economic progress but also for social justice. The present study provides a contribution to this effort. It offers a detailed profile of the strengths and weaknesses of all 28 EU member states across six dimensions constitutive of the goals of social justice: poverty prevention, equitable education, access to the labor market, social cohesion and non-discrimination, health and intergenerational justice. The key results of the comparative study can be summarized as follows:



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