Inequalities in the EU and their consequences for democracy, social cohesion and inclusion

Specific Challenge

While a core value of all democratic countries in the EU is equality, inequalities have increased in recent decades. Democracies seem powerless to stop the trend and may sometimes even seem to encourage such inequalities. There is however considerable controversy on whether and how rising inequalities impact upon democracy and social and political inclusion. Inequalities are not only economic and social phenomena, but they also empower and constrain individuals' and groups' political capacities and therefore provide indicators as to how we live together as a community and organise politically. Faced with the growing feeling among citizens that the political institutions in European democracies have become less powerful and allow for inequalities to grow instead of reducing them, it is important to enquire to what extent the increase in social and economic inequalities affects the cohesion of society, the future of our democratic systems and the European project as a whole. It is often claimed and/or assumed that a flourishing middle class constitutes the backbone of European democracy and that its demise at the centre leads to the rise of more polarised, and possibly populist, politics which threatens to undermine the stable and predictable democratic state which emerged gradually after WWII and became characteristic and indeed an essential prerequisite of European Integration. Given that high concentrations of wealth and income among a small proportion of society impacts negatively on social cohesion, the EU and its Member States have to reassess and reappraise the democratic effectiveness and functioning of their political systems. The specific challenge is to consider and evaluate the political ramifications of increasing social and economic inequalities and polarisation for democracy in Europe and the types of policy interventions available, including in terms of democratic revival and participatory and inclusive innovations. Whenever relevant, comparative work on case studies outside EU is encouraged.


The research to address this challenge should in particular focus on the following key dimensions. Proposals can comprehensively address one dimension or combine them. They may include additional aspects which are relevant to addressing the specific challenge.

1) The relation between democracy and the 'middle class'

2) Increasing inequalities and their impact on classical and non-classical political participation

3) Young people and the future of European democracies

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the order of EUR 2.5 million for each dimension would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected Impact

Research will increase the knowledge base on the effects of increasing socio-economic inequalities and ensuing polarisation between different parts of the citizenry and European democracy(ies). The relationships, understandings and interplay between democracy, politics and inequalities will be considerably elucidated. Research will make recommendations on the future role of a shrinking middle class for democracy and social cohesion and the ramifications this will have for political engagement and social cohesion. Research will also inform policy makers on how more novel, including ad hoc and digitally supported participation repertoires may or may not qualify to substitute for more traditional democratic, especially electoral, participation. Most importantly, research will provide a critical assessment of current democratic practices in order to build more inclusive and reflective societies and reinvigorate democracies. Research will also inform policy makers of different future scenarios of the development of democracy and political participation in Europe in the light of varying trends in inequalities, putting particular emphasis on implementing new democratic models.

Date de candidature
Sciences sociales
Humanités : Anthropologie & Ethnologie