Social Europe and Well-Being

The EU’s aspirations for a ‘Social Europe’ are fraught with difficulties and contradictions, caught between higher expectations for a more social and protective Europe while being hampered in its ability to deliver. The public’s decreasing appetite for ‘more Europe’ can be explained in part by the fact that people no longer equate the European project with social progress or as an effective answer to the challenges facing today’s society. These include inequality, persistent levels of poverty and social exclusion, growing polarisation within society, rapid technological change, new forms of illness and social isolation, increased precariousness, intergenerational immobility, and less stable forms of work, all of which contribute to a growing sense of insecurity.

Thus, the relevance of the European project is being called into question, in particular, its added value and effectiveness in mitigating the negative social and economic impact of ongoing transformations. In response, the EU is paying increasing attention to the social dimension of EU policies. Despite this, the Union continues to face the same old, familiar challenges of limited competence in the social area and permanent resistance from (some) member states to the idea of Social Europe as an unifying goal.

How to square the circle? How can the EU add value to national policies in the area of employment, health, and social affairs? How can Social Europe be made a unifying goal and shared objective for all EU countries? These are the main questions the EPC ‘Social Europe & Well-being’ Programme aims to address, while looking at how to build a Europe of the future where social and economic considerations are part of the same strategy, where citizens’ well-being is protected, not jeopardised, where care and public services are adapted to their needs, and where the functioning of the welfare state is ‘future-fit’.

The Programme is structured around the following priorities:

  • Strengthening the social dimension of EU policies and governance for upward social convergence.
  • Towards a modern and inclusive labour market.
  • Making European welfare states and social protection systems ‘future-fit’ in the light of ongoing labour market transformation.
  • Investing in human capital for greater well-being and less inequality, with a particular focus on health. The EPC’s work on health - mainly through the long-standing partnership with Johnson & Johnson under the CHES banner - has a particular focus on the ethical aspects, especially issues related to access, affordability and patient choice.

A set of concrete events and research projects have been developed around these thematic priorities. The activities under this Programme are closely integrated with other EPC focus areas, especially those related to migration and the economy, with a view to providing more ‘joined-up’ policy solutions.

In this programme


Programme Team

Head of Social Europe & Well-being programme and Senior Policy Analyst

Claire Dhéret

Policy Analyst

Simona Guagliardo

Junior Policy Analyst

Mihai Palimariciuc

Senior Adviser to EPC on energy, public service reform and CHES

Hans Martens

Senior Adviser to EPC on employment and the EMU

László Andor

Senior Adviser to EPC on health, social and migration policies

Lieve Fransen

Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Sociology, City University of London

Eric Harrison