The Welfare of Public Servants in European Comparison

Research question/goal: 

The major aim of the project was to examine the welfare state arrangements of public servants in several European countries, their preconditions, and their effects. The focus was on the institutions of social protection for public servants and their necessary adaptations to the changing environment. Such external pressures, e.g. the expansion of public employment and the subsequent state financial crisis, and demographic ageing, were analysed with respect to the change in the institutions of social protection for public servants. The project investigated the effects of these adjustments in public employment and of these reforms of social protection for public employees on their social situation.

To answer the research questions, we conducted detailed and standardized country studies for one South and two North European countries. These two groups of countries have been chosen because they are most different and represent two extremes with respect to their national public services. We here present the main results with reference to two selected topics: the evolution of public employment and the reforms of the pension system.

Due to the economic crisis of the 1990s, public employment was reduced substantially in Sweden, reaching the level of the 1970s. Even in Italy, where the level of public employment was much lower, a reduction of public jobs was necessary. Only Denmark was able to stabilise and even slightly expand its high level of public employment.
The recession of 2008 had no major negative effects on public employment in the Nordic countries, while the South European countries (Italy) were hit most and were forced to reduce public employment.

The pension system is confronted with the “growth to limits” (Peter Flora) of the welfare state, in which pensions represent the largest part of all social expenditures. All three countries had to move towards a multi-pillar pension system. In such a system, public service pensions are integrated into the general system. In addition to basic pensions, public employees receive an occupational pension from the second pillar. In general, this implies a deterioration of the pension level of public servants. While the development of occupational public sector pensions has been largely achieved in the Nordic countries, this reform was found to have failed in Italy.

Fact sheet

2011 to 2020
Data Sources: 
Official statistics, social surveys like ECHP, EU-SILC, EULFS and national social surveys, legislative sources
Geographic Space: 
Northern Europe: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden; Southern Europe: Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain