This article asks whether the novel EU approach to member states’ economic adjustment strategies constitutes a ‘social investment turn’ by the Italian and Spanish welfare states. The analytical framework combines insights from different strands of the literature on policy change, in particular those devoted to policy legacies and to policy-making ‘conditionings’ (constraints and facilitators). The study assesses the extent of social investment, as advocated by EU country-specific recommendations, of the set of measures introduced to fight the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and of programmatic documents issued by the Italian and Spanish executives, such as the State Budget Laws for 2021 and National Recovery and Resilience Plans. In order to evaluate the impact of new conditionality on policy outputs, the article then turns to consider the economic, social and policy legacies of the previous economic crisis and what would have been the prospects for a social investment turn in the absence of Next Generation EU funding. Conclusions show that, at least at the level of intentions, ‘carrots’ seem to be working better than ‘sticks’ on the quest for more intense social investment in Italy and Spain.
- Social investment
- Welfare state