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The AUTHLIB consortium cordially invites you to the hybrid discussion titled


Illiberalism and Social Policy: A Four-Country Comparison

Friday, March 22, 2024

4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. CET / 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. ET


which will be held at the CEU Democracy Institute in Budapest
(N13 606, Nádor utca 13, 1051 Budapest)

and can also be followed online.




Social policy is the area affecting most the well-being and thriving of people, and it thus plays an important role in the campaigns and governance of all political parties. For illiberal actors economic and social policies are of particular importance because, as opposed to outright autocracies, illiberalism exists under democratic or quasi-democratic circumstances. Illiberal actors have to build popular legitimacy, and they do so primarily through economic and social promises and welfare policies. Despite the central importance of social policies to illiberal actors, this area is still under-researched; to date, there is no concise comparative account that includes various welfare state regimes.

To fill this gap, this discussion, presenting Dorottya Szikra’s working paper titled “Illiberalism and Social Policy: A four-country comparison”, looks at four countries that are members of the EU and experienced illiberal rule for a shorter or longer period in the past decades. Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Poland belong to three different welfare regime types, which allows for a cross-regime comparison.

The paper addresses the following research questions: What kind of social policies do illiberal actors pursue? Are their social policy reforms popular? Is there an illiberal style of policy-making? The research employed qualitative text analysis of party manifestos and policy documents between 2008 and 2023. The findings indicate a gradual “leftist” turn of illiberal parties in economic and social policies that is, however, focused on performance.  Somewhat paradoxically, illiberal actors fight gender wars alongside with an increased attention to female constituencies.


Paper presented by:

Dorottya Szikra, Research Fellow, CEU Democracy Institute; Head of Department, Centre for Social Sciences



Éva Fodor, Professor, Central European University; Research Fellow, CEU Democracy Institute



Dean Gibson Schafer, Post-doctoral Fellow, CEU Democracy Institute





More about the speakers:

Dorottya Szikra is Senior Researcher at the Centre for Social Sciences, Budapest, and Visiting Professor at the Department of Gender Studies, CEU Vienna. She is also associated with CEU Democracy Institute where she leads a CIVICA research project entitled Welfare, Democracy, and Populism under the COVID-19 Crisis (WELDECO). Szikra’s main research field is welfare state and family policy development in Central and Eastern Europe. Between 2016 and 2020 she acted as the co-chair of the European Social Policy Analysis Network (ESPAnet). She has acted as a member of the editorial boards of various journals, including the European Journal of Social Security, the Hungarian on-line journal and since 2020 the Journal of European Social Policy. Since 2021 she has served as a member of the EC-commissioned High-Level Group on the future of social protection and of the welfare state in the EU. Her recent publications include (together with Kerem G. Öktem) 2022. An illiberal welfare state emerging? Welfare efforts and trajectories under democratic backsliding in Hungary and Turkey. In Journal of European Social Policy, online first; and (together with Cristina Rat and Tomasz Inglot) 2022. Mothers, Families or Children? Family Policy in Poland, Hungary, and Romania, 1945-2020. University of Pittsburgh Press.

Eva Fodor is Professor of Gender Studies at the Central European University and is currently a member of CEU’s Senior Leadership Team as Pro-Rector for Teaching and Learning.  She has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California in Los Angeles and works in the field of comparative social inequalities.  Specifically, she is interested in how and why gender differences in the labor market and elsewhere are shaped, reshaped, renegotiated and reproduced in different types of societies and in different social contexts. Her recent book, “The Gender Regime of Anti-Liberal Hungary” describes the introduction of what she calls a “carefare” regime in Hungary after 2010 (open access with Palgrave Pivot, 2022).  Her ongoing research projects address the impact of the Covid – 19 pandemic on the division of care work, and the transformation of the labor market during and following the pandemic.

Dean Schafer is Post-doctoral Fellow at the CEU Democracy Institute and researcher on the AUTHLIB – Neo-authoritarianisms in Europe and the Liberal Democratic Response. He completed his PhD at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. His research focuses on the values and incentives that shape coalition building in backsliding democracies. Broadly, his interests include political economy, comparative democracy and autocracy, and data science methods. He scrapes social media data to get leverage on the attitudes, networks, and behavior of political elites, which is especially useful in hard-to-observe settings such as authoritarian countries. His work has been published in Party PoliticsSouth European Society and Politics, and Nationalities Papersas well as public-facing outlets including The Democracy Paradox and Foreign Policy in Focus.

This event takes place in the framework of the “AUTHLIB – Neo-authoritarianisms in Europe and the Liberal Democratic Response” project.


Photo credit: Noin90650 via Shutterstock

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