Social Federalism

The Centre takes a multi-disciplinary approach to the research theme of Social Federalism, through its research, but also through its coordination of and participation in the Forum Federalisme.


The Forum is a platform for intellectual interdisciplinary exchange of ideas on issues of federalism. The Forum Federalisme convenes academics active in the fields of law, social policy, politics, history, economy and linguistics at Antwerp University. The initiative, taken in the Fall of 2008 by Bea Cantillon, Director of the Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, was motivated by the knowledge that quite a number of academics at Antwerp University do research on issues of federalism, but they do so mostly within their own discipline. Since its inception, the Forum has organised two conferences, one international expert-seminar and numerous lunch seminars that have fed and stimulated debate and reflection on federalism issues in Belgium. The Forum’s (Dutch) website is www.forumfederalisme.be.

In the field of research, the Centre aims to acquire more insight into the way in which social policy and redistributive solidarity within the context of multilevel welfare states develop. Its research is motivated by the following considerations:

• A growing number of rich, egalitarian welfare states are confronted with shifts in the territorial organization of social policy. As a result of globalization, Europeanization and regionalization processes, social policy is no longer a strictly national prerogative. Rather, it is progressively evolving into a shared competence. At the sub-national level, regional and local actors claim an ever larger role. As a result of European integration, individual Member States are confronted with supra-national requirements and objectives when formulating national social policies.
• A central tenet of post-war welfare state development is tested as a result of these evolutions. The nation state was widely considered as the optimal territorial level for the distribution of social risk, the organization of interpersonal solidarity (across regions) and the promotion of citizen’s fundamental rights. Over time, the exclusive competence of the nation state has become less self-evident.

A series of questions emerge, first with regard to the allocation of competences and the organization of redistributive solidarity between different policy levels. In this regard, both issues of feasibility and normative considerations merit attention. Second, the implications in terms of social protection and social outcomes should be considered carefully.


The Centre’s research features five main strands:

The institutional and territorial allocation of redistributive solidarity in multilevel welfare states. This strand examines the distribution of social policy competences in a select number of countries. It will investigate the extent to which European legislation influences policy formulation at the national level. Moreover, it documents interregional redistributive flows between regions that result from systems of interpersonal solidarity

Causes and consequences of competence transfers in social policy and redistributive solidarity. Most causal investigations concerning competence transfers understate the role of party-political variables and the media. The joint analysis of federal reform processes and media content provide an innovative contribution to causal inference in this field. With regard to the consequences of competence transfers, the project will consider policy divergence and its impact on social outcomes.

Citizenship in multilevel welfare states. This strand examines how the transformation from a centrally organized to a multilevel welfare state alters the beliefs of citizens and political elites concerning citizenship, identity, solidarity and redistribution.

The optimal design of redistributive solidarity in multilevel systems. This strand considers the optimal organization of social redistribution through social security and fiscal policy, in Belgium and other federal states and in Europe. This strand focuses on instruments of coordination and accountability, as well as on the role of the subsidiarity principle in this respect.

Multilevel social policy in the European Union. The optimal distribution of competences between sub-national, national and supranational levels to promote efficient and adequate social protection is the guiding theme of the Centre’s research and each of its strands.

Universiteit Antwerpen - University of Antwerp
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