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An empirically informed European theory of justice and fairness
Deadline: Feb 4, 2016  

 Horizon Europe
 European Union

Topic Description
Specific Challenge:

The ongoing financial, economic and social crises in Europe have brought the issue of rising inequalities to the fore. Whilst increases in inequalities vary between (Member) States and have evolved at different speeds at different times, it is clear that inequalities have been on the rise generally over the last three decades, both in Europe and globally. There is increasing evidence and awareness that rising inequalities have both contributed to the crises and been a consequence of them. The spatiality of institutions and the socio-economic context have contributed to the financial crises differently, while banking systems – e. g. decentralized versus centralised systems – have also played a major role. Despite evidence showing that more equal societies fare better on core quality of life indicators, there continue to be differences in perceptions of inequality. It is therefore high time to address, and possibly reappraise, the concepts and realities of equality, justice and fairness at a fundamental level, both normatively and empirically. The specific challenge is to formulate a theory of justice and fairness which is normatively sound, reflective of European values and at the same time rests on solid empirical ground with regard to citizens' attitudes and views.


The research to address this challenge should in particular focus on the following key dimensions. It is expected to either comprehensively address one of these dimensions or to combine them. The research may also cover other issues relevant for addressing the specific challenge.

1) Towards a European Theory of Justice and Fairness

Research should take stock of and, if necessary, issue with past and existing theories of justice with a view to constructing a, possibly specifically European, theory which is in tune with European values and reflective of the achievements and shortcomings of the European integration process. In particular, such conceptualisations should adopt a historical and philosophical perspective in various European countries and consider not only how conceptions of justice and fairness have evolved and developed in European politics, societies, cultures and economies, but also whether novel, alternative conceptions of justice fairness are called for and conducive to reinvigorating democracy. Such attempts should take into account the growing sense of exclusion and marginalisation felt inter alia by ethnic and religious minorities. Apart from (re)distributive approaches and rights, other resources for building just and fair societies such as the significance of recognition in society and of individual and collective capabilities and the practice of the rule of law should also be considered. Research may ponder 'post-secular' approaches to democracy and justice. The meaning of 'equal opportunities' should be normatively reassessed and substantiated. Whilst the focus of the research should lie on theory building and development, the ambition of the theory should also be to serve as an inspiration and reference point for policies designed to reverse inequalities. The research should take into account the international and third countries perspectives.

2) How Europeans perceive, experience, relate to and contest inequalities

Building on existing data, including projects financed by the European Union, in particular the European Social Survey, research should conduct comprehensive empirical, quantitative and qualitative investigations on the scale of inequalities accepted and acceptable to Europeans as well as the psychological processes leading to the perception of inequalities and innovative methods for studying these phenomena. This should encompass the attitudes regarding inequalities at least in relation to debt, wealth, income, access to financial services and to the labour market, education, age, gender and health. The study should cover a representative range of EU countries. If justified, non-European countries may also be covered, especially with a view to comparing them with European perceptions. The central questions that should be addressed are how much inequality people accept, find appropriate or perhaps regard as beneficial and why. Evidence on people's attitudes should be set into relation to their real-life experience with inequalities. Research should also explore attitudes about the precept of 'equality of opportunities' versus 'equality of outcomes'. How do people understand these notions? What expectations do people harbour about it? Apart from drawing on survey data, research should gather new data, in particular in the field of psychology, to explore preferences for redistribution and related questions. Current and previous policies aiming at redressing inequalities should be critically assessed in the light of the findings of the research. Research should combine quantitative and qualitative methods.

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 under this topic is expected to provide comprehensive data and analysis on the extent to which inequalities are regarded as acceptable across a range of dimensions and Member States. Research will lead to a greater understanding and reassessment of the notions of justice and fairness and should aspire to formulate a European theory of justice which is conducive to providing political guidance for the political challenge of reversing inequalities. In particular, research is envisaged to considerably enhance and deepen the knowledge base on the foundations of the concepts of justice and fairness. Research should inform policy makers at various levels on how to implement policies.

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