Far From the Ivory Tower

Written by Ellen Halliday on . Posted in Current profiles, Profiles

Anton Hemerijck

SPS Professor Anton Hemerijck

Professor Anton Hemerijck joined the EUI in January 2017 as Professor of Political Science and Sociology. For 2017 he is also Centennial Professor in the Department of Social Policy at the LSE. Hemerijck was Dean of the Faculty of the Social Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam between 2009 and 2014, where he was also Professor of Institutional Policy Analysis. He co-founded the Amsterdam Centre for Contemporary European Studies (ACCESS EUROPE) and between 2001 and 2009 he directed the Netherlands’ Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR). He has also been Professor at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and a senior researcher at the Max-Planck-Institute in Cologne. He has held numerous visiting positions at MIT to the University of Lisbon, the University of Antwerp, the Collegio Carlo Alberto of Turin University, and also the EUI (1996; 1998).

Professor Anton Hemerijck has had a remarkable impact on the world he studies. After starting out as an economist he took the chance for a political science career at Oxford, claiming a realisation, he says, that ‘economic rationality only goes so far’ in real economic policy-making. Since then, his comparative research on European welfare states has changed not only the academic study of the subject but also the social policy provisions made for citizens.

So what was the influential argument? In the late 1990s, Hemerijck coined the notion of “social policy as a productive factor” for the European Union. ‘There are many dimensions to social policy, such as social insurance, active labour market policy, childcare, skills and family policy, which together define the social infrastructure of a country,’ he said. ‘In turn, these generate both positive economic impact and social progress.’

First and foremost, Anton Hemerijck is an academic, but the substance of his work belies a dual responsibility. ‘At institutes like [the EUI], our work should be judged on its academic merit. But over the years some my ideas have been taken on board by political actors. For me, that is important,’ Hemerijck told the EUI Times. The professor has frequently served as an advisor on social policy and the welfare state at the highest level of European policy discussion, alongside many other EUI-affiliated scholars. For Hemerijck, curiosity about the politics of public policy is important. ‘Engaging ‘with politicians and policy-making, I really get a sense of what goes into making important economic and social policy decisions under various institutional contexts,’

And amongst politicians and policy-makers today, ‘at long last’ Hemerijck’s social investment approach ‘resonates well,’ he admits. ‘The story of social investment is sometimes difficult to tell – as it falls between traditional ideological positions,’ Hemerijck explained. ‘But on the other hand, if you ask young people what they want out of life, they want a job, they want work, they want to raise a family, with good health and educational prospects for their offspring’. So whilst social investment reform is eminently feasible and has popular appeal, in economic hard times welfare priorities are under pressure. Still, ‘a more activating, family-oriented welfare state is best able to deliver on sustainable wellbeing and inclusive economic growth,’ Hemerijck asserts.

Professor Hemerijck is modest about the impact of his work on European welfare policy but nonetheless speaks with conviction about the responsibility of academics to engage in the world around them. ‘As social scientists, we do not live an ivory tower,’ he says.

Yet as far as the EUI is concerned, the Dutchman is extremely pleased with the view from his new academic room at the Badia. Professor Hemerijck has a long history with the Institute, dating back twenty years, to an invitation from his, PhD-supervisor at Oxford University former EUI Professor Colin Crouch, to run a seminar here. ‘It was a very cold February day, but very sunny, very bright,’ he told EUI Times. ‘I took the 7 bus up from Piazza Libertà, and as we went into the hills the scenery became ever more beautiful. Then at San Domenico, I got off and came to a place that seemed like paradise.’

Prof. Hemerijck’s latest book The Uses of Social Investment (OUP) is currently in production. It will be published later in the year.

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