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Social administration, social rights and activation : France in comparative perspective

Final Activity Report Summary - ADRACTIVE (Social administration, social rights and activation : France in comparative perspective)

This project investigated the impact of established variations in the governance structure of national social protection arrangements on the process of welfare state reform and restructuring, notably in the area of unemployment benefits.

The research:
- developed a new framework for the comparative empirical analysis of unemployment and labour market policy change, specifying discrete dimensions of unemployment policy and identifying quantitative and qualitative data sources to measure change in these dimensions over time.
- used these indicators to reconstruct the trajectories of unemployment policy development since the early 1980s for six European countries.
- employed a process tracing method, based on different forms of data, to analyse the configuration of political conflicts around unemployment policy in these cases, with special attention to the impact of the governance context on the terms of debates and the preferences of different actors.

The research demonstrated that variations in governance structures do impact upon the intensity of different actors' involvement in unemployment benefit reforms, on the policy preferences expressed by these actors and on the content and structure of reforms that tend, therefore, to be adopted in different national contexts. Specifically, it showed that unemployment benefit reforms in the so-called Bismarckian welfare states of continental Europe, such as Belgium, France, Germany until sweeping reforms of its social protection governance in the late 1990s - the Netherlands, where the governance of social protection has traditionally been devolved to trade unions and employer associations, have had a different rhythm, sequence and content from those witnessed in countries like the United Kingdom or Denmark, where government and state actors enjoy greater autonomy in the process of social policy making. At a different level of analysis, the research showed how apparently minor differences in the role and responsibilities in the different actors within Bismarckian welfare states have been consequential for the politics of welfare reform. Thus, differences in the governance structure help to explain why sweeping reforms came more quickly onto the policy agenda in Germany than in France, or why trade unions in Belgium have pursued aims in unemployment policy that are quite distinctive within the Bismarckian world of welfare.

The principal scientific achievements of the research are:
- a clearer specification of the 'dependent variable' of welfare reform in the area of unemployment policy, permitting better understanding of the qualitative differences in the styles and types of unemployment policy reform engaged in different national contexts over the last 20 years.
- a systematic demonstration of the crucial, and previously neglected, role played by structures of social administration or governance, through their impact on actors' power and preferences, in explaining such differences.
- a better understanding of the specificity of social politics in Bismarckian welfare states, and its impact on the style and content of unemployment policy reform in these institutional contexts.
- helping to advance a less deterministic and more differentiated understanding of path dependency as a factor in the development of European welfare states.