Europeans today express in many, diverse ways a shared sense of the value of welfare, solidarity and social citizenship, for example by volunteering to help refugees arriving on Lesbos or in Sicily, or camping in the ‘jungles’ of Calais and Dunkerque. Yet the sense of the value and meaning of welfare is highly pluralistic, with deep roots in each European country bound up with that country’s history. Rather than speaking of a ‘European’ social model we should explore instead the plurality of this shared cultural sense of the value of welfare and social citizenship, as well as its limits.
This project uses historical and contemporary analysis to explore the relationship between voluntary and state action in the development of welfare states and democracy in Europe. By examining the manifold ways in which families, churches, trade unions, municipalities and other private or semi-public associations have interacted with each other and with the state in the identification of social problems and the creation of solutions, we propose to broaden our understanding of European social welfare both historically and socially, looking back before 1945 while plunging deeper into the fabric of civil society organizations, where so much of Europe’s social protection has taken place – and still does.
The project is urgent because the welfare role of the state is currently being questioned in many European countries and greater prominence proposed for the voluntary and private sectors. But historical analyses reveal that what is often proposed as an innovative solution to current problems – greater recourse to the voluntary sector – has been intrinsic to what we call welfare states since their inception. Our project offers a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the nature of welfare states and of what is at stake in current debates in order to make a constructive contribution to those debates.