Principal Investigators – Dr Helen Thompson and Dr Pieter van Houten

European politics is dominated by the implications of the recent economic crisis. The global financial crisis, which started in 2007, induced an economic recession throughout Europe, followed by a sovereign debt crisis in several European states. The political response to the economic crisis increasingly has focused on austerity, attempts to bring down budget deficits and control the rise of debt. While this focus has been encouraged or even mandated by the European Union (EU) in states that are part of the Eurozone, non-Eurozone states such as the United Kingdom have also strongly pursued austerity policies. Moreover, this focus on austerity is likely to continue in the coming years.

Within this common pattern of austerity there is significant variation in the nature of austerity policies and their effects across European states. This project focuses on this varied nature of the politics of austerity in EU member states, and particularly on its social and political consequences and how these are perceived by citizens. The causes and ideological underpinnings of the politics of austerity have received considerable critical attention, and there is much public and academic debate about the extent to which austerity policies can be successful in reducing deficits and ultimately reducing debt whilst not inhibiting economic growth. By contrast, differences in the size and exact implementation of austerity programs and their social and political consequences have received much less attention. This project aims to further our understanding of the politics of austerity by addressing the following questions: How have EU member states exactly implemented austerity programs? What can explain differences in the nature and size of these programs? What are some of the main social consequences of these programs, and why do these differ across states? How do citizens perceive and evaluate the austerity programs and their consequences?

More precisely, this project focuses on fiscal austerity, the fiscal rules and fiscal policies devised to deal with budget deficits and national debt. (It, thus, sets aside the effects of monetary policy by the European Central Bank or the central banks of non-Eurozone states.)

The project will analyse the politics of fiscal austerity in two stages. The first stage will document and analyse the specific ways in which states in the EU have implemented fiscal austerity programs. This will focus on the size of the programs (in terms of the overall public budget and as percentage of the country’s GDP), as well as on their specific design (such as the extent to which particular policy areas are targeted, the use of tax increases, and the relative emphases on cutting benefits and reducing public investments).

The second stage of the project will analyse various social and political consequences of the politics of austerity. Analyses of these effects are necessary to better appreciate and evaluate the impact of these programs on the lives of individuals and the (re)distribution of resources, but have so far received limited attention in academic research.

Social Science Research for the 21st Century - Progress through Partnership