Continental drift: On unemployment policy change in Bismarckian welfare states

Daniel Clegg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article analyses the development of unemployment policies over the past 20 years in four continental European countries: Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. It shows that, far from being as 'frozen' as many analysts have suggested, each of these Bismarckian welfare states has in fact seen considerable change in this policy sector in recent decades. In Belgium, France and Germany, significant changes in unemployment policy reforms have unfolded gradually, through an accumulation of small changes. This finding offers some support to recent theorizing on the potential for policy changes that are both incremental and transformative. However, while such processes have led to shifts in unemployment policy that are far from negligible, the article also argues that they fall short of those seen in this policy sector in other welfare institutional contexts as well as in the Netherlands, where substantive reforms have in the last decade been complemented with changes to the institutional framework for unemployment policy. Through its analysis of the relationship between the institutional features of these welfare states and the possibility frontier of unemployment policy reform, the article develops a nuanced perspective on the scope for and resistance to social policy change in continental Europe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-617
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007


  • Bismarckian welfare states
  • Policy change
  • Unemployment


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