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Social Exclusion and Social Solidarity: Public Participation and Welfare reform (PEN-REF), Final Report

Project ID: HPSE-CT-1999-00023


Demographic ageing, the emergence of global markets and socio-economic change are exerting considerable pressure on European welfare states. Yet, despite seemingly overwhelming pressures to change, welfare state reform in general and pension reform in particular are inherently unpopular political enterprises. As a result, pension reforms across Europe have proved to be divisive and conflict-ridden policy issues.
Against this backdrop, the members of the PEN-REF consortium wondered what, if anything, citizen participation processes could contribute to pension policy-making? In order to answer this question, the PEN-REF consortium set itself two tasks. First, the consortium wanted to know how the politics of European pension reform work. Second, the PEN-REF project use focus groups to simulate citizen participation processes in four European countries. The aim here was to assess the desirability and feasibility of involving the public in pension reform processes.
An analysis of the politics of pension reform showed that reform efforts of the past decade had considerably changed European pension policy-making. Throughout the countries examined by the PEN-REF project, pension policy communities have become less integrated and more populous. New policy actors, such as the banking and insurance sector, have introduced new forms of pension knowledge. More ideational diversity has been synonymous with increasing scientific uncertainty and increasing policy conflict at all levels. In many countries, pension reform debates have become 'intractable policy controversies' in which knowledge and "credible pension data" are merely a rhetorical resource. In essence, corporatist models of interest intermediation have given way to a more complex and more conflictual policy process. This, however, has not necessarily been synonymous with an increase in democracy.

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