Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 January 2022
The activation of social protection is one of the most important current transformations of social protection across Europe. However, there is disagreement about how it should be interpreted. The purpose of this chapter is to point out that:
• The concept of activation can be used in both a broad and narrow sense. In the broader sense, it reaches well beyond what is usually described as ‘activation’ (all sorts of welfare-to-work programmes and making work pay policies).
• There is no such thing as one universal activation rationale: instead, a diversity of solutions persists for activation in both the broad and narrow sense.
• The assessment of the meaning and impact of activation does not require knowledge about formal rules only, but also about the broader context as well as about the praxis of activation.
• Such an assessment can be made from mapping the consequences of activation on citizenship. For this purpose, we will need an analytical and robust notion of citizenship. On the basis of this, we shall bring some empirical evidence of actual transformations and reforms that have happened under the general banner of activation.
Activation of social protection: the broad sense
In the late 1990s, following the reforms in Denmark and the New Deal strategy in the UK, the activation slogan became fashionable internationally. For instance, the OECD was happy to popularise the Danish aktivering. However, little attention was given either to the diversity of historical and societal embeddedness of the reforms or to their special scope. Logically, the activation motto has consistently figured very high on the European employment strategy (EES) agenda.
As a scientific concept, activation can be constructed as describing a tendency observable in the transformation of all national systems. Activation is the introduction (or reinforcement) of an explicit linkage between, on the one hand, social protection and, on the other hand, labour-market participation. Redesigning these systems has led to enhancing the various social functions of paid work and labour-force participation, in increasingly compulsory forms in many national cases. The programmes potentially activated certainly go beyond traditional active labour-market policies (ALMP) or French-style insertion policies (Barbier and Théret, 2001). They also comprise benefit programmes (unemployment insurance and various assistance schemes for working age groups, including disability and some other family-related benefits); pension systems and most particularly, early retirement programmes and policies which aim at reforming the tax and benefits systems.