Research project

Cohesion in Europe - Perception and Fields of Action (PerzepEU)

The project “Cohesion in Europe - Perceptions and Fields of Action (PerzepEU)” investigates how cohesion is perceived in the European Union (EU) and how it can be strengthened under conditions of high political and institutional heterogeneity. In four work packages, the project firstly examines the determinants of perception of cohesion in Europe, with a special focus on the perception of socio-economic factors; secondly, the role of different types of welfare states in the perception of cohesion; thirdly, in comparison with Canada, Switzerland and the USA, the patterns of transfer mechanisms for cohesion in federal systems; and fourthly, in a practice-oriented work package, the different policy instruments for improving cohesion in and between EU member states.

Detailed Description of the Work Packages

Work package 1: Perceptions

This work package examines how economic factors influence the perception of social cohesion by individuals. How individuals perceive economic factors such as income inequality is not always straightforward. Often these perceptions, such as the individual's position in the income distribution, are not correct. Therefore we would like to focus on the individual perception of economic factors and how this influences the perceived social cohesion, which we understand as resilient and reliable interaction between individuals. The relationship between economic context and individual perceived social cohesion is empirically and theoretically disputed and often not studied further. In this work package we would therefore like to study how individuals perceive the economic context and how this in turn influences their perception of social cohesion. To do so, we will investigate data from the European Social Survey and International Social Survey Programme.

Work package 2: The welfare state

The welfare state is generally considered to contribute towards social cohesion by providing security against risks associated with the labour market. While much research has been dedicated to understanding the effect welfare states have on redistribution and for classifying the different welfare state regimes into typologies, recent contributions have shifted their focus. Questions regarding the influence of the institutional configuration of the welfare state on national growth regimes as well as the influence on the formation of preferences and perceptions of political actors and citizens are discussed more prominently. In this vein, we would like to investigate how the institutional configuration, as well as recent reform efforts to cut the generosity of the welfare states, shapes citizens' perception of social cohesion. Moreover, in recent debates migration has been used by right-wing populists to open up a debate about deservingness of welfare benefits and the issue of welfare chauvinism has received attention by scholars. Generally it is argued that migration becomes an issue where welfare benefits are universal, causing right-wing populist protest. Therefore, we also ask how the welfare state facilitates the openness to migration and thereby contributes to social cohesion. Building on results from work package one, we will coollaborate with Bruno Palier (Sciences Po Paris) and Ellen Immergut (EUI), using novel datasets on pension and health policies, as well as on social investment in Europe. 

Work package 3: Transfer mechanisms 

This work package aims to shed light on the conditions for the emergence of transfer mechanisms in a comparative framework, focusing on Canada, Switzerland and the United States. As transfer mechanisms in these federal states have often existed for a considerable time period, we are able to reflect on policy choices and contexts, as well as to evaluate their effects on generating social cohesion in order to map contemporary and future policy directions for the European Union’s cohesion agenda. In line with an historical comparative analysis, the project will explore commonalities and variations toward the initial objective of establishing welfare transfers across the three federations; for instance, were welfare policies introduced to subdue secessionist claims or to generate fiscal equality among poorer sub-units? What provisions were included under these so-called welfare transfers and how did those evolve over the course of time? Moreover, how did institutional responsibilities and legislative competences shape the implementation of federal transfers? In order to extend our historical analysis to assessing present-day policies, we plan to carry out fieldwork in the respective federations, which would enable us to understand contemporary political debates, administrative processes, and public reception of these transfer mechanisms. By highlighting the successes and pitfalls of welfare transfer mechanisms in Canada, Switzerland and the United States, we will open the floor for larger discussions within the field of comparative politics: Can said mechanisms in Canada, Switzerland, and the US be credited with generating social cohesion? If so, can, and importantly, should these mechanisms designed to strengthen cohesion in these three federal states be applied in the EU? Which elements of welfare transfer policies observed would most likely be able to increase cohesion within the EU?

Work package 4: Policy instruments

This work package turns from academic analysis to policy. Building on the unique structure of the Jacques Delors Centre, which combines rigorous research with practical Think Tank work, this package aims to develop concrete policy proposals on how to strengthen social cohesion within the European Union (EU). Amongst others, the work in this package includes a comprehensive analysis of the potential and limits of existing tools addressing social cohesion at the European level such as European social policies, place-based economic support schemes, regulatory issues of the single market, and the social dimension of industrial policies. Moreover, the package will generate tangible reform proposals on how the EU can better support societal and political cohesion within and across member states by building on existing programmes as well as by pursuing necessary institutional reforms. Finally, the package will have a specific focus on possible policy tools to address social, political, and macroeconomic imbalances within the Eurozone. In developing these proposals, the package will work closely with the academic arm of PerzepEU, leverage the insights generated in the rest of the project and complement them by additional qualitative and quantitative policy analysis.



1 January 2021 – 31 December 2023



  • European Trade Union Institute (ETUI)
  • Bruno Palier (Sciences Po Paris)
  • Ellen Immergut (EUI Florence)


Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung)


Project lead